Committee Correspondence to John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Education

Our collective judgement is that the Education (Scotland) (Additional Support for Learning) Act 2004 (as amended) is sound and fit for purpose. We are proud that Scotland has such progressive legislation in place.

So said the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Additional Support for Learning (AGASL) in January this year. At the same time, they recognised the need for a review of its implementation in practice.

Not long after that, a motion was debated and passed by the Scottish Parliament to undertake a review of the presumption to mainstream, and how it is working in practice. It is unclear when this review will take place, or indeed how long it will take, but in a letter to John Swinney, Secretary for Education and Skills, on 9th April 2019 the Education and Skills Committee gave a clear view that mainstreaming in practice needs support. While endorsing the view of AGASL, the Committee outlined their recommendations for the review, based on research carried out over December 2018 through February and March this year. This involved a call for views, a focus group with parents, young people, school staff and others and meetings with other relevant stakeholders, with the Committee aiming to see how the experiences and perspectives of these groups had evolved since the publication of “How is Additional Support for Learning working in practice?” in 2017.

Disappointingly, the Committee found the issues raised by parents and teachers who submitted to the last inquiry remain relevant today. The Committee called for the 2017 recommendations to be considered in any future review and were conscious that: “the policy to include is having the opposite effect in some circumstances due to a lack of resources”. The issues raised for consideration by the Minister will not be news to regular readers, and included:

  • The Scottish Government should consider ways of improving data gathering on individual school’s approaches to issues such as seclusion, restraint, part-time timetabling, unlawful exclusions, and home-schooling as a last resort.
  • A need for increased awareness raising amongst and support for parents.
  • For a meaningful assessment of trends in staffing levels, it is vital to have statistics that reflect the number of support staff with a specialism in supporting those with additional support needs. Work to standardise the nomenclature used by local authorities is a starting point.
  • A need for a financial review to be undertaken by Scottish Government to ascertain the extent to which education authorities are spending in line with the level of need in their area, and identify authorities who have lower spends.
  • The issues with the implementation of CSPs and the associated impact should be the focus of a stand-alone piece of work.

There was also a suggestion that the definition of what constitutes additional support need has become so broad that its impact has been diluted. This may be contributing to an inconsistency in provision.  For instance, children who have English as an Additional Language are included within the definition. While there was no recommendation associated with this, the Scottish Government were asked to provide their perspective.

The Committee has asked John Swinney to respond to their proposals by 15th May 2019, and I await that response with interest.

Photo Credit: DFM gets to work on education, Scottish Government – released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) licence

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Additional Support Needs Update (Issue 4)

The latest newsletter is now available to download. Do please read it, share it and subscribe using MailChimp for future editions.

This edition looks in particular at Co-ordinated Support Plans (CSPs), with the support spotlight this edition on Kindred Advocacy.

Do let me know what you think about the newsletter in the comments.

Additional Support Needs Update (Issue 4)

Stop School Budget Cuts

Education budgets, consultation and the public sector equality duty

I came across this article in TES recently which reported that a group of parents in Surrey had been unsuccessful in their challenge to cuts made to the Special Educational Needs (SEN) budget of their local authority. The challenge was brought by the parents of 5 children who claimed that the SEN budget for 2018-2019 cut spending by £21 million and was unlawful due to a lack of consultation.  This type of challenge – by way of Judicial Review –is not an isolated one, although it is much less common north of the border. And, despite the outcome in this case, can be successful.

Indeed, the case of KE & Ors, R (On the application of) v Bristol City Council [2018] EWHC 2103 (Admin) – raised earlier in 2018 – was successful in quashing the budget decision and sending it back to the Council for reconsideration. The focus of the case was slightly narrower – the parents challenged the Council’s decision to set a school’s budget as it included a reduction in expenditure of £5 million pounds in the “high needs” block budget. This is the budget used for special needs provision.
The grounds for review in that case were multiple, but of particular interest is the challenge made with reference to the Equality Act 2010. More specifically, that the decision breached the public sector equality duty (PSED) which contains a duty to acquire further information – including through consultation.

For its part, the Council argued that the Judicial Review was premature as no decision had been taken on provision proposals which were to be developed within the funding envelope.  The Judge, however, held that the decision was indeed one that could be challenged. The cut was to funding in a very specific area within the Local Authority’s education budget. It was sufficiently focused even at this stage.

Having concluded that the challenge was a relevant one he went on to hold that there had been a failure to consult in terms of the PSED. Further, the Court noted that ‘participation in public life embraces participation in a mainstream educational environment and such participation for children with disabilities is disproportionately low’. Factors such as levels of exclusions and the high numbers of children in special schools were factors that cried out for consideration by the Local Authority and had not been.

Surrey County Council used the same defence as put forward by Bristol City Council. The parents were, however, challenging proposed cuts made across the authority and not to a particular school – or provision. In rejecting their claim, Lady Justice Sharp said that the evidence in the case showed that the decision being challenged was not, in fact, a ‘cut’ to the budget. Rather the authority had identified a potential for future savings: “The Council could not know what the impact of the cuts might be in those areas, or consult on them, because at the time the decision under challenge was taken, no cuts have been decided upon or worked out.”

With the Public Sector Equality Duty applying to local authorities in Scotland too, local government across the UK should take note. These cases confirm that the PSED applies to budget decisions and embraces participation in a mainstream environment.

Information gathering and consultation during the budget setting process goes some way to assist that and is a requirement on decision-makers to ensure that mainstreaming is happening. The Bristol case makes mention of statistics relating to the high numbers of children in special schools in the local authority area, and the numbers of exclusions. A properly conducted Equality Impact Assessment may also be of relevance.

By actively considering how successfully inclusion is working within a local authority area, and what needs to be done if it is not, budget decisions will better reflect and focus on children with additional support needs and disabilities. It may be some time before we see similar cases in Scotland (and funding of such cases is always a thorny issue) but the reminder of the application of the public sector equality duty to changes in the additional support or education budget is certainly timely.

Photo Credit: John Stavely at https://www.flickr.com/photos/8759111@N02/3320291932

Creative Commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Motion on mainstreaming

On Wednesday 30th January 2019, the Scottish Parliament agreed the following motion (S5M-15607):

That the Parliament notes the comments made by the OECD that inclusion is one of the key strengths of the Scottish education system; believes that the presumption to mainstream pupils has laudable intentions and that it works well for the majority of young people in Scotland’s schools; recognises however the very considerable concern that has been expressed by many teachers, teaching assistants, children’s charities and parents’ groups that a growing number of young people with special educational needs are not being well served by being placed in inclusive mainstream education; believes that this is putting additional pressures on teachers and young people in classrooms across Scotland, making it more difficult to support the individual needs of each child; in light of the recent evidence presented to Parliament, calls on the Scottish Government to work with local government partners to review the presumption to mainstream policy to ensure there can be more effective uptake of the provision of places in special schools and specialist units and utilisation of specialist staff, and, agrees that this review should be founded on a continuing commitment to a presumption to mainstream and on the need to ensure that children and young people’s additional support needs are met, to enable them to reach their full potential, from within whichever learning provision best suits their learning needs, and notes the forthcoming publication of revised guidance, tools and advice for school staff, and national research, on the experiences of children and young people with additional support needs.

The motion was brought by Liz Smith MSP (Conservative) with the section from “and agrees that this review..” to the end, being added by an amendment brought by John Swinney MSP (SNP), the Cabinet Secretary for Education.

It is significant that the motion carried cross-party support, with very little disagreement except on minor points of emphasis.  While the motion itself speaks about a review of the presumption of mainstreaming, the Cabinet Secretary seemed to go further than that, referencing “a review of the implementation of additional support for learning, including where children learn”.

It is worth mentioning the solid work that the Education and Skills Committee have put into grappling with this question over a significant period. In addition, several voluntary organisations have worked effectively to keep the issue in the spotlight.

I have some slight concerns as to the length of time that a review might take, as it is not clear what form this is going to take, or over what timescale.

Indeed, as Mark McDonald MSP pointed out during the debate, the last call for a review into the presumption of mainstreaming was some three years ago.  That review has not yet concluded!  Draft revised guidance on the presumption of mainstreaming was out for consultation about a year ago.  (You can read my response to the consultation on the presumption of mainstreaming guidance here.)  The Scottish Government website still claims that updated guidance “will be published towards the end of 2018”.

It is to be hoped that the substantial work which has already been undertaken here means that the review process will not be a lengthy one.

As the motion is keen to point out, there is no intention here to depart from the principle of the presumption of mainstreaming, rather to consider how it is being implemented in practice.  In my view this is the correct approach.  It has always been accepted that mainstreaming would be more expensive than a system of special schools (cf. “Moving to Mainstream” report by Audit Scotland, 2003) – but it has been adopted as a principle because it is the right thing to do.  The policy must be properly resourced as a matter of urgency.  It is not a quick fix, but a long-term commitment which is required.  The resources must also be spent on the right things. For example, simply throwing Pupil Support Assistants at the problem will not help, and may make things worse.

The motion also mentions the “more effective uptake of the provision of places in special schools and specialist units”.  The Doran Review was commissioned by the Scottish Government and published in November 2012.  In the six years which have passed since then little progress has been made in terms of the recommendations it made certainly insofar as they related to Scotland’s grant-aided special schools.  A draft ten year strategy on the learning provision for children and young people with complex additional support needs was published in June 2017.  My response to that consultation can be found here.  The strategy has not yet been finalised, much less implemented (and it was supposed to cover the period 2017-2026).  Meanwhile, the Scottish Government are paying millions of pounds a year to the grant-aided special schools, some of which are woefully under capacity, catering to just a handful of children.  These national resources should be fully funded by Scottish Government and able to select their own pupils, just like the only mainstream grant-aided school is (Jordanhill School).  This would mean that pupils would be accepted to these schools on the basis of need, rather than by who manages to negotiate the local authority / Tribunal system the best – a process that inevitably benefits children of more affluent parents.  There should also be much more emphasis on outreach services to mainstream schools from these national centres of excellence, but this does not currently happen to any great extent.  I advanced these arguments in my consultation response, but I am not holding my breath.

We also need to be careful that the review is not hijacked by those who oppose the principle of mainstreaming altogether.  Some of the language used in the Scotsman coverage for example, is less than helpful – “extra burden on overstretched teachers”; “some ASN pupils could be disruptive”; “a daily struggle to control classes”.

Overall, the review offers an opportunity to press for a system which delivers the right support in the right place at the right time for pupils with additional support needs – we should take it, with enthusiasm and energy.

In Safe Hands?

Section 7 of the Commissioner for Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2003, as amended, allows the Commissioner to conduct investigations into:

whether, by what means and to what extent a service provider has regard to the rights, interests and views of children and young people in making decisions or taking actions that affect those children and young people (such an investigation being called a “general investigation”)

The first such investigation undertaken was on the issue of restraint and seclusion in Scotland’s schools (“No Safe Place”). The investigation focused on two main issues:

  • The existence and adequacy of policies and guidance.
  • The extent to which incidents are recorded and reported at local authority level.

The investigation was undertaken from an international law perspective – primarily the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  But what does Scots law have to say on these thorny issues?

Crime and Punishment

We start with a history lesson.  Following the Scottish case of Campbell and Cosans v. The United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights determined that the use of corporal punishment in public schools was a breach of the parents’ rights to ensure that their children’s education was in accordance with their own religious and philosophical convictions.  That’s right, the case to prevent children from being physically chastised at school was decided on a parents’ rights basis, not a children’s rights one!  Obviously.

The UK and Scottish Governments have subsequently taken various steps to eliminate the use of corporal punishment from schools.  Section 16 of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000 imposes a ban on the use of corporal punishment, by removing any such defence in relation to the crime of assault.

So far, so good.  The legislation then goes on to say that anything done for reasons which include averting:

  1. an immediate danger of personal injury to; or
  2. an immediate danger to the property of any person (including the pupil themselves).

… does not count as corporal punishment.

And, that’s it.  That is basically all the law has to say about physical intervention in schools, which is to say almost nothing.  Note that the law does not say that it is okay to do these things, just that they are not corporal punishment (in case anyone was confused).  So what?

Well, corporal punishment is no longer a legal defence to charges of assault against a child (at least insofar as teachers are concerned – the defence of “reasonable chastisement” still exists in some circumstances for parents).  But actions taken to prevent injury to people or damage to property are not corporal punishment.  Which is relevant because they can amount to a defence to a charge of assault.  The law here is essentially a reminder that there is a defence of self-defence (or defence of other people – or property) in some circumstances.  This is subject to all of the usual criminal law rules about taking an opportunity to retreat where available, and ensuring that the level of force used was proportionate.

NB. Massive caveat – I have never done so much as a single day’s criminal law in my life, so my pronouncements on this should be treated with even more caution than usual!

And of course criminal law approaches to this issue mean that a criminal standard of proof applies to any prosecution (i.e. beyond reasonable doubt) – which may be problematic if relying on the evidence of younger children or children with additional support needs.

The use of restraint or seclusion in schools, perhaps as a result, is not often considered by the courts or other legal fora.

Administrative and Policy

One example relatively recently determined by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman was Case 201607679 (The Moray Council) which is a bit of mixed bag in terms of outcome.  The SPSO determined that the act of restraint itself “was appropriate given the Council’s policy”.  However, the policy had a clear emphasis on avoiding or de-escalating a potential incident – and that staff did not act reasonably in line with their policy to stop the incident taking place.  There is a mixed message here.  The Council could have prevented the need for restraint, but as they did not do so, it was appropriate for them to use restraint against the complainer’s daughter?!

The Ombudsman also found that there had been a failure to document whether the child had sustained any injury following the incident, even though this was required by their own policy.  The Council were asked to provide evidence of the further training for staff which had taken place, and to apologise to the child and her mother.

There have also been a few (unreported) cases on this subject by the Additional Support Needs Tribunals in cases brought in terms of the Equality Act 2010.  The use of restraint or seclusion for a disabled child may amount to discrimination arising from disability (Section 15) where the education authority are unable to show that the treatment was a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate goal”.

Again, in this context the use (or failure to use) of the correct paperwork has been of significance.  One Tribunal concluded:

There was no proper record of the use of these seclusions kept at any time by the school. Whilst the [education authority] has since devised a new policy which requires that seclusion is a risk-assessed, personalised, reported, recorded and reviewed strategy this policy was not in place when the child was secluded.  The Tribunal were unable to conclude upon what basis the seclusion was used as there are no records of its use, purpose or outcome in respect of it being used for the Child.  In the absence of these safeguards the [education authority] were unable to demonstrate to the Tribunal that the use of seclusion could be justified as proportionate to a legitimate aim in these circumstances.

That is all quite legalese, but what it is basically saying is that without the proper planning, policy and records, it will be difficult to persuade a Tribunal that the use of seclusion on disabled children has been lawful.

Overall, there are some small encouraging signs, but this is set against the backdrop of a system (educational, legal and political) which gives every appearance of valuing teachers above children.

Employees and Employments

For example, the case of Porter v. Oakbank School in 2004 which remains, to my knowledge, the only time that the issue of physical restraint in schools has been considered by the appeal courts in Scotland in terms.  This case involved a teacher at the school who fractured a pupil’s arm while trying to escort him to the “quiet room”, as he had been out of class without permission.

While accepting that an appeal decision is not going to be the best medium for getting a full sense of the facts of the case, it does seem that there was, perhaps, an incomplete understanding of the nuances involved, even allowing for the fact that this was over 15 years ago.

The judgement summarises the context as follows: “The .. school [is] for children with special educational needs. .. The school was accustomed to dealing with disruptive and unruly pupils. The staff received tuition in ‘crisis and aggression limitation and management’ (CALM), a technique for controlling violent or disorderly persons.”  This is a description with which CALM Training may take some issue!

The Court found that there was not sufficient evidence of unnecessary force in this case, and cast doubt on “whether textbook solutions were practicable in the emergency that pupil A had himself created.”  The Court upheld the earlier decision that the teacher had been unfairly dismissed by the school.

Reporting and Responding

It will therefore be interesting to see what response there is to the Commissioner’s report.

The Commissioner found that while children’s rights are referenced in many policies, they are not given meaningful expression in terms of how they should impact on practice.

There was also criticism of the Scottish Government for failing to produce a national policy to ensure consistent and lawful practice, something which groups like Positive and Active Behaviour Support Scotland (PABSS) have been calling for for years.

Several recommendations were made, including:

  1. Local authorities should, as a matter of urgency, ensure that no restraint or seclusion takes place in the absence of clear consistent policies and procedures at local authority level to govern its use.
  2. The Scottish Government should publish a rights-based national policy and guidance on restraint and seclusion in schools. Children and young people should be involved at all stages of this process to inform its development. The policy and guidance should be accompanied by promotion and awareness raising.

All those who are subject to recommendations are required to respond to the Commissioner in writing by 31 January 2019.

Exclusion and disadvantage – a warning from London

An interesting and disturbing article I cam across recently in the Guardian: “Inner London students placed in excluded pupils’ schools almost double national rate” – which reveals statistics on exclusion from within London.

London’s schools are some of the highest performing in England and Wales, following the innovative London Challenge programme – which has in turn inspired the Scottish Government’s attainment challenge.

Research in London’s schools shows that the rates of exclusion rise significantly in some London boroughs – particularly in Inner City boroughs associated with high levels of poverty and other social disadvantage.  In one area 1 in every 54 pupils were in pupil referral units for excluded children.

Kiran Gill, from the IPPR who carried out the research argues that the most vulnerable children with the most complex needs are disproportionately affected by exclusion, and London has no shortage of them.

Exclusion is correlated with multiple and overlapping layers of disadvantage.

Kiran Gill, IPPR

One of the factors identified in the article as driving the exclusions was the pressure schools feel to perform in league tables.  Is there a danger that the Scottish Government’s national standardised testing (which was this week disowned by international educational experts)could lead to similar pressures – and a similar increase in exclusions?

In reading this article, I was reminded of the presentation from Linda O’Neill and Lizzie Morton from CELCIS, speaking at the Differabled Scotland seminar on exclusions last October – highlighting the much greater rate of exclusion for looked after children, and the prevalence of informal exclusions.  A report of that seminar should be available soon, if you missed it.

You can also find out more about school exclusions in Scotland and the legal position specifically in my third newsletter, which has a focus on exclusion from school.  You can access the newsletter using mailchimp and subscribe for future editions.

Notes from the end of the year

Today was my first day back at work, which is always a bit of a difficult gear change.  It was also the first day back at school for many pupils and teachers.

I am not one for New Year’s Resolutions in general, but I do want to post to the main blog more often in 2019, so I will start as I mean to go on …

This post is a bit of a round up of a few things that I wanted to write about towards the end of last year, but didn’t get around to.  So, I will just summarise them here, with the relevant links for you.  It is possible that I will return to some of these in due course, but then again, who knows?

  • The Scottish Commission for Learning Disability released their 2018 report.  The 2018 Learning Disability Statistics Scotland provides data on adults with learning disabilities from local authorities across Scotland.  The report is provisional, as Glasgow City Council’s returns were late.
  • The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland published the report “No Safe Space” following a national investigation into the use of restraint and seclusion in Scotland’s schools.  It recommended (among other things) that the Scottish Government should publish a rights-based national policy and guidance on restraint and seclusion in schools. Children and young people should be involved at all stages of this process to inform its development.
  • On a similar theme, a pupil in Yorkshire has brought legal action against his school over the use of “consequence rooms” containing booths in which children sit in silence for hours as punishment for breaking school rules.  The article in the Guardian gives the details of the case, including the Dept. for Education’s response.
  • It was reported in TESS in December that due to a variety of terms being used for support staff, there is no way of monitoring levels of staffing for pupils with additional support needs.  The article: “Have support-staff numbers dropped? Who knows?” quotes Green MSP Ross Greer as describing the term pupil support assistant as “comically generalised”.  This seemed to me to be a bit of a non-story as the idea that you can quantify number of ASN staff within a mainstream school context is counter-intuitive.  The better additional support needs are understood and supported by all staff, the fewer dedicated ASN staff will be required – so a drop in these numbers should be a good thing, right?
  • The campaign for funded nursery places for deferred pupils, Give Them Time, had a useful blog piece outlining the right to defer in Scotland: “To Defer or not to Defer?
  • The UK Supreme Court delivered a judgement about Section 15 of the Equality Act 2010 (Discrimination arising from disability) in the case of Williams v. Trustees of Swansea University Pension and Assurance Scheme [2018] UKSC 65. Though not an education case, the principles apply – helpfully, the Court confirmed “the relatively low threshold of disadvantage which is sufficient to trigger the requirement to justify under this section.”
  • The Herald carried an article on Boxing Day which reported on the “Demand for radical overhaul of controversial policy on vulnerable pupils.” which quoted several sources questioning the implementation of the presumption of mainstreaming and some of the consequences thereof.  The Cabinet Secretary for Education reiterated the Government’s support for the presumption of mainstreaming.  I think most are agreed that it is not the policy which requires to be overhauled, but its funding and implementation.  (I also think the legal drafting could do with some work, but that’s another story)
  • My third newsletter hit the digital presses just before the end of term, with a focus on exclusion from school.  You can access the newsletter using mailchimp and subscribe for future editions.

And that’s it for now.  Let me know in the comments any topics you’d like to see covered here or in the newsletter.

Additional Support Needs Update (Issue 3)

The latest newsletter is now available to download. Do please read it, share it and subscribe for future editions.

This edition looks in detail at exclusions from school, with a particular focus on autism and disability and a list of reminders for exclusion appeals.  The support spotlight this edition is on Children in the Highlands Information Point (CHIP+).

Do let me know what you think about the newsletter in the comments.

Additional Support Needs Update (issue 3)

 

Braille

A Vision for Equal Education

80% of learning in schools is through vision – which means that traditional education models exclude children with visual impairments. The number of
children with a visual impairment (VI) has more than doubled in the last seven years which, when coupled with a reduction in specialist VI teachers, makes the issue of how VI children are supported in their learning journey a critical one.

Attainment, measured by the number of pupils moving onto a ‘positive destination’ after school, is 5% lower for children and young people with a visual impairment than for those without additional support needs (although it is currently on an upwards trajectory). More worryingly, progression to higher education for VI students is on the downturn.

With Scotland’s education system presuming that a child will be educated in a mainstream environment (Section 15, Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc Act 2000), it is likely that visually impaired pupils will attend a mainstream school. The fall in numbers of specialist teachers and support staff, however, can mean that VI children are left to cope with a visual learning environment without adequate adaptation or support.

The Royal Blind, the charity which runs the Royal Blind School, has recently launched a campaign to highlight the difficulties faced by pupils with a visual impairment. ‘Our Vision for Equal Education’ furthers their commitment to a future where all vision impaired children and young people receive the specialist support they need.  The campaign includes four key actions:

  1. A Scottish Government Action Plan to recruit and retain the specialist teachers needed for the increased numbers of vision impaired pupils.
  2. A new SQA training qualification in vision impairment for education support staff and others, including those providing care and therapy.
  3. Effective transitions for vision impaired young people post-school education.
  4. A fair and pupil centred placement system for vision impaired young people.

These campaign aims, if realised, would support education authorities and others in fulfilling their duties to make adequate provision for the additional support needs of pupils with a visual impairment, and to make reasonable adjustments to avoid substantial disadvantage to such pupils as a result of their disability.

For more information about the campaign, please go to: https://www.royalblind.org/royal-blind/campaigns/reports-and-consultation-responses/our-vision-for-equal-education

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rolanddme/4944962234

Additional Support Needs Update (Issue 2)

The second newsletter is now available to download. Do please read it, share it and subscribe for future editions.

This editions covers: notes on the news; the attainment challenge; meeting children’s healthcare needs in school; school clothing grants; and a spotlight on Enquire.

You can also let me know what you think about the newsletter or its contents in the comments.

The Additional Support Needs Update, Issue 2