So, to recap…
Back in June 2020, the report of the independent review of the implementation of Additional Support for Learning legislation in Scotland was published. The review was chaired by Angela Morgan, and the report, which is worth reading in its entirety, is titled “Support for Learning: All our Children and All their Potential”.
A formal response from Scottish Government and COSLA was issued, which accepted all of the recommendations (save for those which required external input, e.g. involving the Universities delivering initial teacher education) and set up a monitoring framework.
What did Children and Young people tell the Review?
The report begins with a statement of what children and young people might think about the implementation of the law on additional support needs. This is, undoubtedly, a very good place to start. However, it also laments the smaller than hoped for numbers of young contributors to the review.
The Young Ambassadors for Inclusion provided the headlines for this section of the report, highlighting from the outset: “Meaningful relationships between children and young people and staff are important for learning;”
This is a key point, which the review returns to time and time again.
Children and young people also underlined the importance of “willingness to adapt teaching methods to children and young people’s learning styles” and the importance of school being a safe place for them.
Other points noted by the younger contributors included:
- school staff need to have more knowledge and understanding of additional support needs;
- the ability and capability of pupils with additional support needs must not be underestimated;
- more understanding and empathy from peers is needed;
- timely (and, I presume, effective) responses to bullying are important;
- consistency of support is required; and
- communication needs to improve.
Central to all of this is involving children and young people with additional support needs:
“Children and young people have their own views on what works for them and what kind of support they need.”
For children aged 12 to 15 with additional support needs, My Rights, My Say provides free, independent advocacy to assist children in making use of their legal rights under this legislation. However, that is only the tip of the iceberg, and pupil participation needs to be embedded within the education system.
Indeed, the first, and overarching, recommendation from the review is on Children and Young People’s Participation:
“Children and young people must be listened to and involved in all decision making relating to additional support for learning. Co-creation and collaboration with children, young people and their families will support more coherent, inclusive and all-encompassing policy making, which improves implementation, impact and experience.”
The good practice of the Tribunal in this area is specifically noted elsewhere in the report: “the needs and preferences of the small number of children and young people who engage with the Tribunal, are evident in the detail of the architectural and interior design of the Tribunal offices, and the operational processes developed to reduce stress and distress.”
Resources – and relationships
The ASL review does not shy away from difficult issues, nor from stepping beyond its strict boundaries when it is necessary to do so. It is does therefore, highlight the many concerns that exist around funding for additional support for learning as well as the impact of pressure on local authority resources more generally (the term “austerity” is used seven times in the report).
This was also a point that was made by the children and young people who contributed to the report: “Additional Support for Learning needs to be adequately funded to ensure everyone gets the support they need, when they need it.”
The report therefore recommended that its own findings are considered as part of the recent Audit Scotland thematic review of Additional Support for Learning.
However, as important, if not more so, are the staff resources actually delivering the support to children and young people day by day. The commitment and understanding of those staff and the quality of the relationship between staff, pupil and parents can make or break the educational experience. Parents contributing to the review spoke of the importance of a professional who “just gets it”.
Time and time again, the review returns to the importance of relationships. Indeed, two of the report’s nine themes have “relationships” in the title. Especially in those chapters, but also throughout the report, the fundamental importance of honest trusting relationships is stated again and again.
While this is something that can be taught (and learned), it is much more difficult to legislate for, let alone enforce.
The Tribunals (and those of us who practise within the Tribunal jurisdictions) have a part to play. Indeed, the review notes that “it is essential that rights and associated processes for .. the Tribunal should be clear and understood and barriers to access removed”, while also recognising the heavy drain on resources (both financial and emotional) that it can be for all involved.
Ultimately, it is the success or otherwise of the measures and recommendations from the report as a whole which will determine which cases (and how many) still require to be adjudicated in this way. The first report on progress against the various recommendations is due from the Additional Support for Learning Implementation Group (ASLIG) in October 2021. It is important that the report is not just accepted, but actually leads to significant and lasting change for the children and young people whose interests and rights lie at the heart of it.
This article first appeared in the May 2021 newsletter of the Health and Education Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland.