IPSEA Manifesto 2019

It will not have escaped your attention that there is a UK General Election campaign underway at the moment.  IPSEA (Independent Provider of Special Education Advice) have released a manifesto asking the next Government to address a “SEND system in crisis”.  SEND is an acronym for Special Educational Needs and Disability.

Now, IPSEA is an organisation which does not operate in Scotland, and education is a devolved issue, so this is not directly relevant to the situation north of the border.  The education system and the ASL framework in particular has significant differences.  However, it remains of interest to see what the position is like elsewhere in the UK, and to compare that to the Scottish situation, in relation to each of IPSEA’s 7 “asks”.

1. A robust system of accountability so that local authorities know there are serious consequences if they flout the law.

The complaint here is that SEN law seems to be disregarded with few consequences for local authorities.  In Scotland, there are fairly well developed and reasonably accessible mechanisms for dispute resolution and for putting right things which have gone wrong at the time they do.  It is far less straightforward to seek restitution for things which have happened in the past (even in the relatively recent past).

IPSEA mention the ability of a family to pursue a complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) – and indeed there are examples of compensation being recommended by the Ombudsman in SEND cases.

In Scotland, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) generally refuses complaints related to additional support needs, as these should be dealt with by the Tribunal or other statutory mechanism instead.  It can, in theory, recommend compensation, but basically doesn’t.  Professional negligence claims in education cases are difficult legally, and vanishingly rare.  All in all, it remains the case (as IPSEA state) “so much of the burden is placed on parents when things go wrong”.

One “simple fix” would be to give disabled pupils facing discrimination at school the right to seek compensation (including damages for “injury to feelings”) in the same way that disabled persons facing discrimination in any other field can do, and that pupils facing any other form of discrimination can do.  This would require the amendment of the Equality Act 2010, so it is a matter for the UK Government, and therefore this election, even in relation to Scotland.

Why is it – uniquely among victims of unlawful discrimination – that disabled school pupils are prevented from seeking compensation for the wrongs done to them?

2. Better joined up working across education, health and social care, particularly during the EHC needs assessment process.

There is no doubt that this is an issue in Scotland as well.  A Co-ordinated Support Plan is required only where there is a need for co-ordination of support, but it can often be difficult to get “appropriate agencies” to contribute, attend meetings etc.

Is there an opportunity for a revised, statutory Child’s Plan scheme (freed from the shackles of the Named Person debacle) to facilitate this joined up working for children and young people with additional support needs?

3. Mandatory SEND law training for all those involved in assessing and meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND.  The national qualification for SENCOs should also include a module on the SEND law framework.

I am a lawyer, and often deliver ASL law training to those involved in assessing and meeting the needs of children and young people with additional support needs.  So, I clearly think it has its place – I would probably say that it’s not anyone’s top priority though.

The SQA recognise and certify HNC and HND courses in Additional Support Needs. While the HNC is described thus, “Candidates may work or wish to work as an assistant within a mainstream or specialised school”, there is no national or required qualification for Support for Learning Assistants in Scotland.

4. The extended powers of the SEND Tribunal currently being trialed under the national trial for a single route of redress should be made permanent, but also strengthened so that the Tribunal can make binding orders in relation o children and young people’s health and social care needs and provision.

SEND Tribunals are currently in the midst of a two-year national trial.  During this time (April 2018 to March 2020), SEND Tribunals can make non-binding recommendations on:

  • the health and social care needs specified in EHC plans;
  • the health and social care provision specified in EHC plans related to the learning
    difficulties or disabilities that result in the child or young person having SEN; and/or
  • the social care provision specified in EHC plans that is made under Section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.

There are no current plans to confer similar powers on the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Health and Education Chamber), even on a trial basis.  Perhaps the assessment of the trial period in England will prompt consideration of extended powers in Scotland, too.

5. Stronger guidance on SEN Support to ensure there is clarity over how children should be supported at this level and what good quality SEN Support looks like.

It is a difficult task to describe “what good quality SEN Support” looks like as it is, inevitably, going to vary from child to child, even where children share a diagnosis.  “Supporting Children’s Learning”, the Code of Practice in Scotland, is being revised at the moment, and already contains some very useful examples illustrating the variety of approaches needed to meet the diversity of needs encompassed by the broad term “additional support needs”.

6. The jurisdiction of the LGSCO should be extended to enable it to investigate complaints about schools who fail to deliver SEN Support.

In Scotland, I feel that the process of independent adjudication effectively fills this role.  Regular visitors to the blog will know that I am a fan of this system.  The main problem is a simple lack of awareness.

7. Adequate funding to ensure that all children and young people with SEND receive the support they need to meet their individual needs whether that’s under SEN Support or through an Education, Health and Care plan.

It’s hard to argue with a call for “adequate funding” – agreeing what level of funding is actually adequate is another question.  One point to note is that any additional funding for SEN Support in England would, in terms of the “Barnett consequentials“, result in a corresponding increase in the Scottish budget, though it would be for the Scottish Government (or potentially Scottish local authorities) to decide whether or not any such increase would go to additional support for learning.

Scottish Parliamentary elections are due to take place in 2021.  Perhaps organisations working across the additional support needs sector in Scotland should even now be thinking about a similar manifesto?

Mainstreaming, I presume … (Part 2)

In the first part of this series (Mainstreaming, I presume … (Part 1)) I looked at the legislative basis for the presumption of mainstreaming.  In this next part, we will be looking at the question of inclusion.

The term “inclusion” is not used in the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000, or in the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004.  In fairness, it is a difficult concept to define in statutory terms.  However, the explanatory notes to the 2000 Act, talk about the presumption of mainstreaming in these terms: “This section aims to establish what is effectively a presumption in favour of ‘mainstream education’ for all children in Scotland. It will strengthen the rights of children with special educational needs to be included alongside their peers in mainstream schools.”  So, a right to inclusion has always been the intention of the legislation.

From an international perspective, it is Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which best outlines the position, with its requirement on signatories (including the UK) to “ensure an inclusive education system at all levels”.

It goes on to require:

a) Persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability, and that children with disabilities are not excluded from free and compulsory primary education, or from secondary education, on the basis of disability;

b) Persons with disabilities can access an inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live;

c) Reasonable accommodation of the individual’s requirements is provided;

d) Persons with disabilities receive the support required, within the general education system, to facilitate their effective education;

e) Effective individualized support measures are provided in environments that maximize academic and social development, consistent with the goal of full inclusion.

Article 24(2), UNCRPD

The UNCRPD is not currently incorporated into UK or Scots law in the same way that the European Convention on Human Rights is, or the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child will be (under current proposals).  However, it remains an international obligation (albeit one which the UK Government have accepted with two fairly substantial reservations – see ALLFIE on Article 24).  Governments, including the Scottish Government, are required to have regard to the Convention in making law and policy and to take steps to ensure its effective implementation.  The Convention can also be referred to by individuals taking legal action, as an aid to the interpretation of existing law (as it is presumed that neither Westminster nor Holyrood Parliaments would legislate in a way which is incompatible with its international obligations).

“A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People” is the Scottish Government’s delivery plan for the UNCRPD to 2021.  However, this does not make specific mention of the right to inclusive education, or of Article 24, or of the presumption of mainstreaming.  It does make mention of “Disabled people are visible and participating within communities, learning and education, volunteering and employment.” and “Equal opportunities for disabled people in education and employment.” – which captures some of it, I suppose.

The Ministerial Foreword to the guidance, however, could hardly be clearer in its intentions re: inclusion, with the Cabinet Secretary for Education spelling out the benefits of inclusion: “affords all children and young people the opportunity to be a part of a community, boosting their emotional wellbeing and aiding the development of social skills.” as well as being clear on the limitations of the presumption of mainstreaming: “Being present in a mainstream school should not be the primary marker of successful inclusion.”  There is also, a very welcome (and child-centred) acknowledgement of the importance of how inclusion is experienced by the individual pupil.

The introduction to the guidance then gets to grips with what is meant by “inclusion”.  This is helpful, actually.  The “Scottish vision for inclusive education” is pretty vague as you might expect – but usefully links an inclusive approach to the achievement of equity and excellence (the tiresome two watchwords of modern education policy in Scotland).

What is more helpful, in my view, is the identification of four key features of inclusion:

  • Present
  • Participating
  • Achieving
  • Supported

The guidance goes on to consider each of these features in turn, as will I …

Edited (18 November, 2019) following helpful input from A24 Scotland.

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

Mainstreaming, I presume … (Part 1)

In March of this year, the Scottish Government published revised guidance on the presumption of mainstreaming.  It is now November, and I have not yet blogged about it (although I did post my consultation response on the draft revised guidance).  I think my inaction may be due to the size of the task, so I have decided to break it down into smaller chunks, and deal with it a bit at a time.

The Legislation

We’ll start with what the law says about this.  Introduced as an amendment during the passage of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000, the ‘presumption of mainstreaming’ is found in Section 15 of that Act.

The phrase ‘presumption of mainstreaming’ is an odd one to start with.  It is not used in the legislation at all.  The crossheading used in the Act is “Requirement for mainstream education” and the section heading is “Requirement that education be provided in mainstream schools”.  In legal terms, there is no such thing as a mainstream school, and so the section itself, as we will see, takes the form of a prohibition on providing education in special schools (with some exceptions).

Interestingly, the guidance itself takes a slightly different title: “Guidance on the presumption to provide education in a mainstream setting“.  So, for the same single section we have: mainstream education, mainstream schools and mainstream setting.  What the difference is between these three, if any, is not clear.

The Section itself says this:

15 Requirement that education be provided in mainstream schools

(1) Where an education authority, in carrying out their duty to provide school education to a child of school age, provide that education in a school, they shall unless one of the circumstances mentioned in subsection (3) below arises in relation to the child provide it in a school other than a special school.

(2) If a child is under school age, then unless one of the circumstances mentioned in subsection (3) below arises in relation to the child, an education authority shall, where they—
(a) provide school education in a school to the child, provide it in; or
(b) under section 35 of this Act, enter into arrangements for the provision of school education in a school to the child, ensure that the arrangements are such that the education is provided in, a school other than a special school.

(3) The circumstances are, that to provide education for the child in a school other than a special school—
(a) would not be suited to the ability or aptitude of the child;
(b) would be incompatible with the provision of efficient education for the children with whom the child would be educated; or
(c) would result in unreasonable public expenditure being incurred which would not ordinarily be incurred,and it shall be presumed that those circumstances arise only exceptionally.

(4) If one of the circumstances mentioned in subsection (3) above arises, the authority may provide education for the child in question in a school other than a special school; but they shall not do so without taking into account the views of the child and of the child’s parents in that regard.

The legislation is fairly clear on its expectations, and it is fair (to my mind) to describe this as amounting to a ‘presumption’ of mainstreaming.

One interesting quirk of all of this is that the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 – which postdated this legislation coming into force – changed the definition of “special school” – which effectively changed the scope of this duty.

Section 29(1) of the 2004 Act, defines ‘special school’ as

(a) a school, or

(b) any class or other unit forming part of a public school which is not itself a special school,

the sole or main purpose of which is to provide education specially suited to the additional support needs of children or young persons selected for attendance at the school, class or (as the case may be) unit by reason of those needs.

So a pupil who attends a Language and Communication Unit (for example) which sits within a mainstream school, is not being educated in a mainstream setting or receiving a mainstream education, according to the Act – regardless of how many opportunities for joining in activities with mainstream peers may be offered.

The Act also does not address situations in which there may be a split placement.  Is a pupil who attends a mainstream school part-time and a special school part-time being educated in accordance with this statutory requirement, or not?

Finally, the presumption of mainstreaming appears as a ground of refusal in the legislation concerning placing requests (Schedule 2 of the 2004 Act).  Ground for refusal 3(1)(g) applies where the ‘specified school’ (i.e. the one requested by the parent)  is a special school, if placing the child in the school would “breach the requirement in section 15(1) of the 2000 Act”.

As set out in the recent Upper Tribunal case of Midlothian Council v. PD, this effectively means that, for a parent to be successful in a placing request for a special school, they will have to show that one or more of the exceptions ( a to c, above) applies.

That more or less covers the legislation.  Next up … Inclusion and the presumption.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Case summary – Midlothian Council v. PD (Upper Tribunal for Scotland)

Since the beginning of 2018, further appeals in additional support needs cases go from the Tribunal to the Upper Tribunal for Scotland.  It has taken until now, however, for a case to actually get as far as that and yield a decision for us to look at.  Let us set aside for the moment my own personal disappointment that it was not one of my cases, and the fact that it is only a determination of the question of permission to appeal, and see what the case actually says.

The case in question is Midlothian Council v. PD [2019] UT 52 (PDF) and it is an appeal against a decision of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Health and Education Chamber) to grant a placing request appeal in favour of the appellant (the parent of a child with additional support needs).

Continue reading “Case summary – Midlothian Council v. PD (Upper Tribunal for Scotland)”

Children's Rights, Inclusion, Equality

A complex additional support needs strategy (overview)

The Scottish Government recently published “The Right Help at the Right time in the right place” – Scotland’s Ten Year Strategy for the Learning Provision for Children and Young People with Complex Additional Support Needs.

The Ten Years in question are 2017-2026, with the commencement of the strategy being taken as the date that a draft was published for consultation – which is an interesting approach!

There is no separate legal definition of the term “complex additional support needs” and (perhaps wisely) this strategy does not attempt to come up with a definition of its own.  Instead, there is a “working description” outlined on p9, which includes:

  1. children and young people with a Co-ordinated Support Plan (CSP);
  2. children and young people at stage 3 or 4 of an education authority’s staged intervention model;
  3. children or young people who attend a grant-aided or independent special school.

It is also worth noting the descending capitals in the title, with “Right Help” being followed by “Right time” before finally giving way to the “right place”.  Does this imply an order or priority or importance?  Or, am I reading too much into things?

Context for the strategy

This strategy fits within the Scottish vision for inclusive education, which reads:

Inclusive education in Scotland starts from the belief that education is a human right and the foundation for a more just society. An inclusive approach which recognises diversity and holds the ambition that all children and young people are enabled to achieve to their potential is the cornerstone to achieve equity and excellence in education for all of our children and young people.

Inclusive practice is defined by reference to four key features of inclusion:

  • Present;
  • Participating;
  • Achieving;
  • Supported

You’ll recognise these from the revised guidance on the presumption of mainstreaming.

The big question behind all of this is funding.  Specifically £11 million.  Which is what the Scottish Government currently spends on the grant-aided schools (Harmeny, East Park, Royal Blind School, Donaldson’s, Corseford, Stanmore House, and the Scottish Centre for Children with Motor Impairments (SCCMI)) and three national services (Enquire, CALL Scotland and the Scottish Sensory Centre).

The strategy is all about commissioning services, and seeks in particular to ensure that “the impact of any service commissioned results in capacity building across local authorities as well as at  national level,”.  This suggest a move away from funding schools, and towards funding research, professional development and outreach services.

Next Steps

To sit alongside this document, an Operational Commissioning Strategy is being prepared.  This will complement the Ten Year strategy, and is to be published  “in late 2019”.

The Commissioning process will have heavy involvement from the third sector who – it is anticipated – will take a lead in applying for funding and delivering services.  Other organisations or partnerships may also apply for funding.  Any change to the current funding arrangement will be introduced in such a way that it will not prejudice placements of children and young persons already support by the existing recipients of funding.

As I mentioned earlier, professional development may well be a key plank of this strategy as it is implemented.  Indeed, the strategy states that “By 2026 there should be a well-established national leadership programme at post-graduate level, which addresses the requirements of effective leadership in the context of schools and services for children and young people with complex additional support needs.”

Parental engagement

Parental engagement is also mentioned throughout the strategy.  A new resource “Supporting Disabled Children, Young People and their Families” was put out for consultation in April 2018, and highlights good practice on rights and information, accessibility of support, and transitions.

The Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 places a specific duty on local authorities to consider how their parental involvement strategies make provision for parents of children with complex additional support need.  The Scottish Government will include specific guidance on this point as part of refreshed national guidance on parental involvement.

Children’s Rights

The strategy also makes passing reference to children’s rights, and expresses a desire that a positive culture, in which children are welcomed, nurtured, listened to, and have their views heard and their rights protected, is promoted in Scotland.

The changes to the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 for children aged 12-15 is highlighted, as is the children’s support service, My Rights, My Say.

A version of the strategy which is accessible for children and families will be made available in “late 2018”.

Transition Period

The proposal here is for a “phased release of funding from the current commitments”, with the grant-aided special schools potentially having to adapt to a new funding landscape in which they access funding on a different basis – or not at all.

An evaluation framework for the strategy is to be developed, with annual reporting against that framework from 2021.

Conclusion

Much detail still to follow, including the Operational Commissioning  Strategy and the practice of education authorities in commissioning in future.  Whether this will have an impact of statutory placing requests, or planning documents, for example, will remain to be seen.

Additional Support Needs Update (Issue 5)

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 the incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law, with the support spotlight this edition on Dekko Comics.

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

Additional Support Needs Update (Issue 5)

 

Belt up in the back!

Back to school, and the return of the school run.  For many children this will mean travelling in vehicles (usually buses or taxis) arranged for them by the school or education authority.

This school year marks the beginning of the requirement for the publication of annual seatbelts statements.  As of 1 August 2019 (or as soon as reasonably practicable thereafter) each school authority (i.e. education authority, proprietor of an independent school, or managers of a grant-aided school) must publish a seatbelts statement. This sets out what steps the authority has taken to comply with the seatbelts duty and to promote and to assess the wearing of seat belts by pupils carried by the authority’s dedicated school transport services.

The principal duty, which has been in force since 1 August 2018 for new school transport contracts, and will apply from 1 August 2021 for any remaining existing school transport contracts is as follows:

A school authority must ensure that each motor vehicle which the authority provides or arranges to be provided for a dedicated school transport service has a seat belt fitted to each passenger seat.

Section 1, Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Act 2017

This covers both home/school transport and transport used for school trips, sporting events, residentials etc.

The Scottish Government has published guidance for schools: Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Act 2017 – Guidance – which includes a template for the annual seat belt statement.

Of course, pupils with additional support needs make up a goodly proportion of those requiring school transport.  The guidance notes that:

Some pupils travelling on dedicated school transport may need specialist provision, such as smaller children needing a height-adjustable seatbelt, adjustable straps, lap belts, or adaptations which are required because a young person has Additional Support Needs. The Scottish Government recognises that school authorities, particularly local authorities, are better placed to conduct needs assessments in line with their existing obligations regarding education provision more generally and to make provision or enter into contractual arrangements to allow for this.

There’s not much in the guidance on this topic (in fact, it’s basically just this) but there are two assumptions which seem to run through this paragraph.  First, school authorities should conduct needs assessments in relation to adaptations required for pupils with additional support needs to use school transport.  Second, those adaptations should be made (either directly, or by ensuring that any contract for transport requires them to be made).  This is broadly in line with the reasonable adjustments duty for disabled pupils under the Equality Act 2010.

 

Included, Engaged and Involved Part 1

New Attendance Guidance – is it any good?

Last week the Scottish Government published revised guidance on school attendance.

The guidance is called Included, Engaged and Involved Part 1: A Positive Approach to the Promotion and Management of Attendance in Scottish Schools.  As the name suggests, there is an immediate link being made here with school exclusion – Part 2 of the “Included, Engaged and Involved” is the exclusions guidance (which is, by and large, very good).  Anyone who has read the Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved research will know the very real overlaps between non-attendance at school and informal exclusions from school for disabled pupils / pupils with additional support needs.

I come across issues of attendance and non-attendance in my capacity as a solicitor and also as a member of a local attendance council for a Scottish local authority.  More often in the first capacity, the situation is that a child with additional support needs is “not coping” with school and this is manifesting itself in behaviour which makes it not safe for them to attend, or in a refusal to attend school – often expressed in very definite terms.

Note already the terminology used – it is the child who is not coping, rather than the school environment (say) or teacher practice (for example) which requires amendment.

Pupils with additional support needs have a lower rate of attendance than pupils with no additional support needs, with the difference being particularly stark in mainstream secondary schools (88.6% compared to 92.1%) 2017 stats.  Given this known disparity, it is disappointing that the section on Additional Support for Learning occupies half of one page (in a fifty page document).  There are four paragraphs, three of which explain what additional support needs means as a term and a little bit about Co-ordinated Support Plans.

The other paragraph, however, does sort of get to the heart of matters (in all fairness):

Providing additional support may help children and young people to engage more fully with school and promote good attendance. Schools should recognise that poor attendance can often be related to, or be an indication of, an additional support need and they should use their staged intervention processes to ensure that any barriers to learning are identified and appropriate support is provided.

My concern is that this gets lost in a document which has much more to say about the traditional means of responding to absence: work being sent home; attendance orders; references to the children’s panel; and prosecution of the parents of the absent child (five pages devoted to the “Measures for compulsory compliance” appendix!).  None of which is helpful or effective in relation to a child whose autism means that they are unable to function effectively (let alone learn) in the busy environment of a large mainstream school.  These systems were set up decades ago to deal with truancy and are ill-suited to other purposes.  Further, once you are in the enforcement process, it is difficult to get out.

Fortunately, the Tribunals – and the Court of Session, in the 2018 Inner House case of City of Edinburgh Council v. R, may take a more considered view of this type of case.  The case deals with some fairly technical matters under the Equality Act 2010, but ultimately has no difficulty with the Tribunal’s finding that a CSP for a disabled child refusing to attend school (for reasons arising from that disability) which basically says the school can do nothing until the child attends school – was inadequate, detrimental and discriminatory.

 

Learning Disability Week 2019

This week is Learning Disability Week 2019!  This year, the theme is community.  The campaign provides an opportunity to celebrate the contribution of people with learning disabilities to their communities while also raising awareness of some of the barriers they can face in doing so.

As the Scottish Commission for Learning Disability highlight:

Communities are at their best when everyone is active…connected…and feels included.

At their best communities – including learning communities – provide something for everyone to benefit from, boosting wellbeing, preventing loneliness and isolation, and improving outcomes.

Inclusion is the overarching approach adopted in schools in Scotland – with the presumption of mainstreaming central to that policy.  Although this policy has many detractors if a recent study is to be believed, when it works, this inclusive ethos enables children with learning disabilities to play an active part in their school communities. The Additional support for learning: experiences of pupils and those that support them report found that most pupils with additional support needs at mainstream schools felt they had lots of friends, that it was easy to make friends, and that they were included in the life of the school.

By educating pupils who have learning disabilities and those who do not side by side, friendships and support networks can blossom between children who may not have crossed paths in previous generations.

There is still, however, work to be done.  Keys to Life is Scotland’s learning disability strategy.  It recognises learning as one of the strategic priorities, and highlights the following:

  • Teachers have a pivotal role in securing positive experiences for people with learning disabilities.
  • Many teachers don’t have the skills and resources they need to support pupils with learning disabilities.
  • Testing and attainment structures do not reflect the potential of children with learning disabilities and how they can succeed.
  • Transition periods are particularly challenging for people with learning disabilities.
  • There are a lack of appropriate choices for people with learning disabilities at school and college.

The rights that pupils with learning disabilities have under both the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010 should assist in tackling some of these issues, but that does rely on an increased awareness of those rights among educators, parents and pupils.

A school is at the heart of its community, and by adopting an inclusive ethos, properly supported, they can be instrumental in building a genuinely inclusive school experience for all pupils.

Full Disclosure: I am a board member of the Scottish Commission for Learning Disability.

Deaf Awareness Week 6-13 May 2019, Celebrating Role Models

The rights of deaf pupils in Scotland’s schools

In this, my second blog post to mark Deaf Awareness Week 2019, I wanted to look at the rights of deaf pupils at school.  What are those rights, and how does that translate into actual support for deaf pupils in reality?

A child or young person has additional support needs if they require additional support in order to benefit from school education (Section 1, Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004).  This applies to all children and young people for whose school education a Scottish education authority are responsible.  So, anyone at a local authority school or nursery, or placed at an independent or grant-aided special school by their local authority.

The type of additional support which may be required will vary from one deaf pupil to another, but the education authority has a duty to make “adequate and efficient” provision for those needs, whatever they happen to be (Section 4(1)(a) of the 2004 Act).  The Code of Practice, for example, makes specific reference to support from a “peripatetic teacher of the deaf” (Chapter 2, para 13).

Also of relevance is the Equality Act 2010, which imposes a reasonable adjustment duty on schools in relation to disabled pupils – including deaf pupils.  This duty applies to all schools in Scotland, whether they are public schools, grant-aided schools or independent schools. Again, what constitutes a reasonable adjustment for one deaf pupil will not necessarily mean that it is appropriate for another. It all depends on the individual child or young person, their needs and their preferences.

The Technical Guidance for Schools in Scotland does have some useful and instructive examples.  At para 6.40, there is an example of a deaf pupil who reads lips – in that case “a reasonable adjustment would have been to train all staff to ensure that they face the pupil when speaking to him”.  At 6.48, a list of potential reasonable adjustments includes “Assistance from a sign language interpreter, lip-speaker or deaf-blind communicator”.

Whether relying on the rights found in the 2004 Act or the 2010 Act, deaf pupils and their families have access to various dispute resolution mechanisms, including mediation, independent adjudication and the Health and Education Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (also known as the Additional Support Needs Tribunal).

I spoke to  Alasdair O’Hara, Head of Policy and Influencing at the National Deaf Children’s Society (Scotland) , in order to get an idea of the current picture of support for deaf pupils in Scotland’s schools:

Deafness isn’t a learning disability and we know that deaf children can do just as well in life as any other child, so long as they get the right support.

Deafness is a low incidence need with 87% of deaf children and young people educated within mainstream schools, meaning those professionals and teachers that support deaf pupils often require access to specialist expertise such as Teachers of the Deaf.

The latest Scottish Government data shows that deaf young people are now 30% less likely to collect Highers or Advanced Highers than their hearing classmates, with only 42% deaf young people collecting the qualifications, compared to 60% of their classmates.

The data also shows that 10% of deaf children will now leave school with no qualifications at all, and are half as likely to go to university as their hearing friends.

To work towards closing this unacceptable attainment gap, other simple improvements can be made in mainstream education settings. Good classroom acoustics, deaf pupils having access to technology and ensuring teachers are deaf aware and know how to use the technology correctly are all vital in supporting a deaf child’s learning.

This tells me that while there is a good level of inclusion for deaf pupils within mainstream schools, more could still be done to ensure that there is a level playing field, allowing them to access education on the same terms as their hearing peers.  Last year, the Tribunal reported only one case which concerned a deaf pupil.  Where additional support and/or reasonable adjustments required are not in place, pupils and parents alike should be made aware of their rights – and how to enforce them.