Potential Energy (Part 9)

Theme 8 in the ASL Review is “Understanding Rights”. As a lawyer, and a former law centre lawyer at that, you would expect me to be in favour of a rights-based approach – as indeed I am.

Things have moved on since the Review was published. It notes the Scottish Government’s commitment to incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law. Now, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill has been passed by the Scottish Parliament. The Bill has been referred to the Supreme Court under section 33 of the Scotland Act 1998 by the Attorney General and the Advocate General for Scotland, which may delay implementation a little, but is unlikely (as I understand it) to have any significant impact on the main operation of the law.

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Manifesto Review – Scottish Parliamentary Elections 2021

I expect it hasn’t escaped your notice that there is an election happening soon. As such, and with an optimistic aspiration that it might encourage people consider more than just that issue when considering how to vote, I will review the main political parties’ manifestos.

This is not a review of the whole of the manifesto of each party, but only those parts which relate to additional support for learning. I am aiming to let you know what each party says and to provide some commentary where appropriate. I am certainly not going to tell you how to vote! Comments on the policies themselves and other ideas you wish were included are very welcome – political points scoring and arguments are not! I am presenting the manifestos in the order in which they were released.

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

Back in October 2019, I blogged on a decision on permission to appeal in this case (cf. Case summary – Midlothian Council v. PD). As you’ll remember, permission to appeal was granted and the decision on the appeal has now been published on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service website.

The appeal was granted, and the case has been sent back to a new First-tier Tribunal (Health and Education Chamber) to hear the case afresh.

Many of the same issues canvassed at the permission to appeal hearing are covered again in this decision (unsurprisingly). As before, I’ll attempt to cover the main points which might be of more general application.

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

Promises, promises

Following the report of the Independent Care Review came The Promise which is effectively the vehicle for driving forwards the actual implementation of the changes required by the review. Yesterday, Plan 21-24 was published.

Plan 21-24 focuses on the period from 1 April 2021 until 31 March 2024. It outlines a set of outcomes that should be concluded by 2024.

There is a lot in the plan, with further detail to follow, but I wanted to take a quick look at what it says about the right to education. There are five specific outcomes which, according to the plan, will be in place “By 2024”:

  1. Care experienced children and young people will receive all they need to thrive at school. There will be no barriers to their engagement with education and schools will know and cherish their care experienced pupils.
  2. School improvement plans will value and recognise the needs of their care experienced pupils with robust tracking of attendance and attainment so that support can be given early.
  3. Care experienced young people will be actively participating in all subjects and extra-curricular activities in schools.
  4. The formal and informal exclusion of care experienced children from education will end.
  5. Schools will support and ensure care experienced young people go on to genuinely positive destinations, such as further education or employment.
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Potential Energy (Part 7)

Following on from the importance placed on relationships and trust as key values and attributes of staff working with children and young people with additional support needs under Theme 5; we now turn to Theme 6: Relationships between Schools and Parents and Carers.

The review begins by affirming the importance of effective working relationships. Where there are “honest and trusting relationships .. characterised by mutual listening and respect” this allows for “sharing views and airing disagreement without conflict.”

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Taking Stock – the Audit Scotland education report

Audit Scotland have just published “Improving outcomes for young people through school education”, a report which started out looking at how effectively the Scottish Government and local authorities were improving outcomes for young people, and ended up considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the responses to that. The report covers both issues, up to around January 2021.

The report is not focused on additional support needs, and there is much which is to do with the process of collecting data and evidence. Which is important, but probably not what you want to read about. I will therefore take you through the edited highlights as they are relevant to children and young people with additional support needs and their families.

Continue reading “Taking Stock – the Audit Scotland education report”

Potential Energy (Part 6)

With apologies, first of all, for the gap in returning to the ASL Review, let us turn to Theme 5: workforce development and support. It is an obvious point that the success or otherwise of any child’s education is going to rely on the staff (teaching and non-teaching) involved in that education.

The review begins with a recognition that where things are working well for children with additional support needs that is primarily down to committed and determined individual staff members who make things work, in spite of the system (as opposed to because of it). That is quite a depressing thought, but also give some cause for optimism. Think how much better things could be once / if the other recommendations from the report are implemented.

Continue reading “Potential Energy (Part 6)”

Education (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Regulations 2021

You may remember back in April last year, when the Education (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 came into force, the Scottish Government indicated that the changes were intended to be temporary and should be reversed by March 2021.

Well, it is now March 2021, and (as of 27 February 2021) the changes have been at least partially reversed, with the coming into force of the Education (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Regulations 2021. Let’s recap:

  • The date on which a placing request (if not decided upon) is deemed to have been refused (if made on or before 15 March, for a place at the start of the next school year) was extended from 30 April to 31 May. It has now been revised to a mid-way point of 15 May. This is effectively the deadline for decisions in such placing requests for this year.
  • For other placing requests (e.g. those made after 15 March, or for a placement starting immediately) the date on which it is deemed to have been refused was extended to 3 months following the receipt of the placing request by the education authority. This has been restored to the original 2 months period.
  • Where an education appeal committee has failed to hold a hearing of a placing request appeal within a certain period following receipt by the committee of the appeal reference, the committee will be deemed to have confirmed the decision of the education authority (i.e. to have refused the appeal). This period was increased from 2 months to 4 months, and has now been revised to 3 months.
  • Where an education appeal committee has failed to fix a new date following an adjourned hearing of a placing request appeal within a certain period following the adjournment, the committee will be deemed to have confirmed the decision of the education authority (i.e. to have refused the appeal). This period was increased from 14 days to 28 days, and has now been returned to 14 days.
  • An appeal committee must now acknowledge receipt of an appeal reference within 5 working days once more (this had been increased to 28 days).
  • A hearing of the appeal must be held by the appeal committee as soon as reasonable practicable within the period of 2 months following receipt of the reference (this had been increased from 28 days to 3 months). If this is not possible “owing to circumstances beyond their control”, the hearing should be held “as soon as reasonably practicable” (changed from “as soon as possible”). The same applies to combined hearings.
  • The education appeal committee must now give notification of the date and other details of a hearing not later than 14 days after receipt of the reference (changed from 14 days to “as soon as reasonably practicable” previously).
  • The format of hearings may change, as the regulations allow for a hearing to be conducted in whole or in part by video link, telephone or “other means of instantaneous multi-party electronic communication”. This provision remains in place – which is a very good thing.
  • The appeal committee may also (if all parties agree) decide an appeal reference without a hearing, based on consideration of written submissions and evidence alone. This provision remains in place – which is a very good thing.
  • Education appeal committees now, as before, have 14 days to notify parties of their decision, and the reasons for it (it was changed to 28 days).

The regulations don’t include any transitional provisions, it’s not easy to be 100% certain, but to the best of my understanding, the new time limits etc. take effect as of now, even in the case of placing requests or appeal processes which are already under way. The regs don’t explain what happens to cases that are, for example, 2.5 months after a request when the deeming provisions change!  My best guess is that it’s deemed on the date of the change (i.e. 27 Feb 2021) in those circumstances.

For the sake of completeness, reg 5 also amends the Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2020 to clarify that certain requirements re: oily fish, deep fried food, chips and pastry products apply separately to evening meals for secondary pupils in education authority hostels.

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

Educational Continuity (No. 9) Direction

At one minute past midnight this morning, the latest educational continuity direction came into force. It will remain in force (unless revoked) until one minute to midnight on 12 March 2021. It may well be formally reviewed at some point prior to that.

As before, the main substance of the direction remains the same (most schools are mostly closed for most pupils), so I will just concentrate on the differences. This time round, the big difference is the provision of in school education for P1-P3 and (on a more restricted basis) S4-S6.

  • having made it clear in the previous direction that education authorities are not required to make provision of remote learning or of education and childcare to those who qualify, outwith normal term time, a further clarification is made here that this is not required on in-service days either;
  • the direction introduces a further exception allowing schools to be used for the facilitation of a Covid-19 testing programme;
  • the direction requires education authority nursery schools and nursery classes to reopen as of 22 February, and for P1 to P3 pupils to return to education authority schools on that same date;
  • in exceptional circumstances, older primary pupils will be permitted to return, where they are in a composite with children in the P1-P3 age range, and there is no reasonable alternative (this might occur with very small schools, I think);
  • for pupils who are in S4-S6, attendance at school is permitted, where necessary for the completion of practical work required for national qualifications;
  • in the meantime, staff are allowed to access schools in order to plan and prepare for the above partial re-opening of schools;

As before, the legal disregards apply (including additional support needs duties and deadlines), but the guidance remains strong on the limited circumstances in which they apply. “It is therefore the continued expectation that authorities deliver against these duties, to the extent that they are not prevented from doing this because of the Direction.” It even goes so far as to suggest that education authorities “will also wish to take their own legal advice in relation to their duties in light of the Direction.”

Case summary – Aberdeen City Council v. LS (Upper Tribunal for Scotland)

There are a number of differences between the systems of education in Scotland and England. One of those is the existence of specialist colleges for young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. Another is the tradition of Sixth Form Colleges. The question which arose in this case was whether pupils with additional support needs in Scotland could access this kind of provision elsewhere in the UK.

As you may know, the system of making placing requests includes, for pupils with additional support needs, the ability to make a request for “a school in England, Wales or Northern Ireland the managers of which are willing to admit the child and which is a school making provision wholly or mainly for children (or as the case may be young persons) having additional support needs”.

In this case, the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Health and Education Chamber), had determined – as a preliminary issue – that the specialist college in question did count as a “school” under the above definition. This meant that LS, the young person, could make a placing request to the specialist college in question. It also means that a refusal (or deemed refusal) of that placing request could be appealed to the Tribunal.

The Council appealed against this decision. There is quite a lot in the detail of the Upper Tribunal decision (Aberdeen City Council v. LS [2021] UT 1) here, but to provide the broad sweep, I will try to simplify.

  • The Upper Tribunal rejected the appeal points raised by the Council and upheld the original Tribunal’s decision. That is, the UT confirmed that the specialist college in this case could be counted as a school for the purposes of a placing request. The Council argued that it should not be because of the age of the students (16+) and the nature of the institution. That argument was rejected.
  • Lady Poole went on to make a number of observations, aimed at ensuring that Tribunal cases were not subject to unnecessary delays. These observations are just that, but they are likely to be taken seriously by the Health and Education Chamber.

So, what does this mean?

First, senior pupils in Scotland with additional support needs will be able to access a wider range of schools than was previously thought to be the case – including specialist colleges. Whether a particular institution and course do qualify will depend on the facts of the individual case, with the focus being on the nature of the provision being offered (can it be regarded as secondary education?) rather than on the age of their students or how they are regarded within the English system.

It follows that I refuse the appeal on grounds 1 and 2 advanced by ACC. Both are predicated on the argument that placing requests can only be to schools which provide education for pupils of school age (essentially 5-15 year olds). I do not consider this is a requirement of para 2(2)(b) of Schedule 2 when properly interpreted, for reasons set out above. I consider the approach of the FtT, in reading para 2(2)(b) in the way it did and determining whether that test was met on the evidence, was correct.

Lady Poole, Aberdeen City Council v. ACC [2021] UT 1

Second, we can look forward to potential changes in some Tribunal procedures. For example, it may well be that treating matters as a separate preliminary matter becomes less common. It is also likely that where a review and a request for permission to appeal are lodged at the same time (which is quite common) they should be considered at the same time, rather than one after the other. This should be quite helpful in reducing delays within the Tribunal process.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay