Ashdown House School case (a summary)

I bring news of an interesting disability discrimination case involving an independent school in England.  The case was determined by the Upper Tribunal, which is basically the appeal route as exists in Scotland from the Health and Education Chamber (previously known as the Additional Support Needs Tribunals).

The case is that of Ashdown House School v. JKL & MNP (not their real names!) and involved a pupil who was referred to for the purposes of the case as “Bobby”.

The facts of the case

Bobby was ten years old and a pupil at Ashdown House School, who has ADHD, sensory processing difficulties and emotional and social difficulties arising from trauma in his early childhood and in the womb.  He is a disabled person in terms of Section 6 of the Equality Act 2010.

He was permanently excluded from the School on 9 February 2019.  He was excluded for aggressive behaviour, including placing another pupil in a headlock and what the school describes as “37 incidents of unprovoked aggression”.  The school admitted that the exclusion amounted to unfavourable treatment, but maintained that the exclusion was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.  The aim in this case was to ensure the health and safety of staff and pupils at the school.  For their part, the parents accepted that this was a legitimate aim, but not that the school had acted proportionately.

The Tribunal (at first instance) found that the exclusion was not proportionate, and was therefore unlawful discrimination.  This was for a number of reasons.  The Tribunal found that while the school had made a number of reasonable adjustments, there were other reasonable adjustments which could have been made (including anger management sessions, consulting with the local authority, and allowing parents to seek a review of Bobby’s Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), or seeking advice from CAMHS regarding his medication).  The Tribunal also found that the exclusion came “like a bolt out of the blue” in that neither pupil nor parents had been warned it was a possible consequence of the incidents.  There was also evidence that other violent incidents within the school (involving other, non-disabled pupils) had been dealt with less severely.

The Tribunal ordered Bobby’s immediate readmission, and that the school formally apologise to Bobby.

The school appealed to the Upper Tribunal.

Legal questions arising on appeal

In considering the appeal, the Upper Tribunal had to consider four discrete points:

  1. Does the First-tier Tribunal (SENDIST) have the power to order reinstatement of an excluded pupil to school?
  2. How can decisions of the First-tier Tribunal (SENDIST) be enforced, if not by the Tribunal itself?
  3. In the light of the courts’ traditional reluctance to order specific performance of contracts involving personal service/contact or supervision, is an order to reinstate a pupil at an independent school (in terms of a contract between the parents and the school) appropriate?
  4. Is it appropriate to order an apology in special educational needs and disability (SEND) cases?

The Upper Tribunal’s decision

The Upper Tribunal dismissed the appeal, and Bobby was – ultimately – allowed to return to school.  I understand that he also received his apology.

The school argued, that in the case of an independent school, the Tribunal would be restricted to making a declaration of discrimination, and making recommendations for the school to consider.  The Upper Tribunal rejected this argument. The wording of the Act permits Tribunal to make such order as it thinks fit (excluding an order for payment of compensation).  This wording obviously includes a power to order reinstatement.

At some considerable length, the Upper Tribunal considers how one of its decisions might be enforced, if not complied with.

Although the Tribunal itself does not have the power to enforce its own decisions in that regard, one of the parties to the action can rely on the inherent power of the High Court to commit for contempt of court in the event of non-compliance with the order or the [Equality and Human Rights Commission] may itself take proceeding under s.24 of the 2006 Act to achieve the same end. The School, however, is not amenable to judicial review because it is not a public body and in expelling the pupil it was not exercising public law functions.

Of course, in Scotland, the President of the Health and Education Chamber has specific powers to monitor the implementation of Tribunal decisions.  In the event that such decisions are not implemented, a referral to the Scottish Ministers (who have enforcement powers and mechanisms in relation to both public and independent schools) may be made.

The Upper Tribunal determined that while the Tribunals should have regard to the historic reluctance of the courts to impose specific performance of a contract which involves personal service and supervision, and the reasons for that reluctance, this did not preclude the Tribunal from making such an order in appropriate circumstances.

The Upper Tribunal suggested that it would be “sensible for a Tribunal considering a disability discrimination claim in the future to consider matters such as whether it is practicable to make an order for reinstatement and, in cases where the applicant has caused or contributed to the expulsion, whether it would be just to order reinstatement.”

In finding that an order for an apology was appropriate in these circumstances, the Upper Tribunal set out the following guidance for future cases (likely to be relevant in Scottish cases, too) repeated largely verbatim below:

  • The Tribunal does have the power to make an order for an apology.
  • An apology may have a wider purpose than merely preventing further discrimination against the child in question. To the extent that an apology is an assurance as to future conduct, an order that there be an apology gives teeth to a declaration of unlawful discrimination.
  • There can be value in an apology: apologies are very important to many people and may provide solace for the emotional or psychological harm caused by unlawful conduct. An apology might reduce the mental distress, hurt and indignity associated with a permanent exclusion. It might also assist with recovery, forgiveness and reconciliation. An order that there be an apology can be regarded as part of the vindication of the claimant.
  • A tribunal should consider whether the apology should more appropriately be made to the child or to their parents. In the case of very young children the latter may be more appropriate for obvious reasons.
  • An order to make an apology may well be appropriate when there is already an acceptance that there has been discrimination or unlawful conduct.
  • However, the fact that there has been a contested hearing and that the respondent has strenuously disputed that there has been any discrimination or unlawful conduct is not decisive against ordering an apology.
  • Nevertheless, particularly where there has been a dispute or a contested hearing, the tribunal should always consider whether it is appropriate to make an order and bear in mind that it may create resentment on one side and an illusion on the other, do nothing for future relations and may make them even worse.
  • Before ordering an apology, a tribunal should always satisfy itself that it will be of some true value.
  • A tribunal should always be aware that there may be problems of supervision if it accepts responsibility for overseeing the terms of the apology which can result in drawn out arguments over wording.

Conclusion

The decision of the Upper Tribunal in this case is likely to be of interest and use in a number of Scottish cases, especially those involving questions of admission and exclusion to an independent school.  However, the points of guidance on the question of an apology are of broader application and I anticipate will be widely cited within the Health and Education Chamber.

 

Action on Unacceptable Unacceptable Actions Policies

One thing I come across from time to time is the application of “Unacceptable Actions Policies” by education authorities to parents raising concerns about their children’s additional support needs.

Typically, this might be used where an education authority have concerns about the frequency or nature of complaints made to school or other staff by a particular parent.  Where used, the effect would usually be to restrict the ways in which a parent is allowed to make contact with the school.  For example, they might be given a specific person to contact, and asked to do so only by e-mail.  Some examples might mean a parent is asked not to attend the school premises, except by prior arrangement – which can extend to not attending to drop off or pick up the child at school.

In considering this issue further, I have had a look at the policy in place for Glasgow City Council.  This is not because Glasgow are any worse than anyone else in this regard, but simply as they happen to the Council involved in the most recent case I looked at.  Fair play to Glasgow, it must be said, for making the policy freely and easily accessible on their website.  I also looked at decisions of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) I was able to find which were relevant to this type of policy.

Glasgow’s policy specifies three different types of unacceptable actions by customers:

  1. Aggressive or Abusive Behaviour;
  2. Unreasonable Demands; or
  3. Unreasonable Persistence.

Aggressive or Abusive Behaviour

The policy helpfully distinguishes between anger (which it implicitly recognises may be justified) and aggression (which is not).  I have some slight concern that “it is sufficient for staff to feel afraid, threatened or abused for the council to consider a customer’s behaviour or actions unacceptable”.  This appears to be the case regardless or whether it is objectively reasonable for the member of staff to feel that way.  To give an extreme example, a staff member who felt threatened simply due to a parent’s stature and racial origin is surely not the sort of thing the policy intends to cover.  It also means that any declaration that staff felt threatened is effectively taken at face value without any enquiry into the circumstances of the case.

However, these are fairly extreme examples, and this section is by and large unobjectionable.

Unreasonable Demands

This covers things like insisting on speaking to a particular member of staff, continuing to raise the same issue in the hope of eliciting a different response, focusing on a “trivial” matter, insisting that a response is not adequate in spite of “a large volume of correspondence”.  Such things amount to unacceptable actions if they start to take up too much staff time.

We are clearly into much more subjective territory here, and possibly in danger of categorising understandable (and often necessary) parental advocacy as unacceptable.  Of course, the expectation is that the Council will apply the policy reasonably, but it leaves much effectively to the discretion and viewpoint of staff against whom (or against whose colleagues) complaints may be being made.

Unreasonable Persistence

“The way in which these customers approach us may be entirely reasonable, but it is their persistence in continuing to do so that is not.”

Basically, the Council reserve the right here to cease engagement with a customer on an issue at the point the matter is referred to the SPSO, or otherwise reaches the end of a complaints or other process.  Which is, in most cases, going to be fair enough.

Let’s have a look at some real life examples, as considered by the SPSO…

SPSO Decision 201806323, Glasgow City Council

In this instance, the Council placed restrictions on Ms. A under their policy.  However, in doing so, they failed to let her know about her right to appeal against that decision, they failed to let her know what conduct of hers had led to the decision, they failed to keep proper records indicating their reason for imposing the restrictions, and they failed to review the decision on a six monthly basis (as their policy required).

While the SPSO were keen to point out that “The Council are entitled to apply their UAP” and that “we are not an appeal route for that decision”, they did uphold the complaint against the Council and made a series of recommendations to improve the operation of the policy in future.

SPSO Decision 201702414, East Dunbartonshire Council

The Council’s policy was applied in this case due to correspondence from Mr. C placing unreasonable demands on the business of the Council.  The Council, however, confirmed that they did not / could not consider properly made Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to fall within the category.  As they have a statutory duty to comply with same, these could not be regarded as  imposing unreasonable demands.

However, the Council were then unable to produce to the SPSO much in the way of non-FOI correspondence.  The SPSO therefore found that Council had unreasonably applied their policy in this case.

SPSO Decision 201701620, Aberdeenshire Council

The complaint in this case (made by Mr & Mrs C) was not upheld.  The Council had followed its own process correctly.  They had identified the conduct they felt was unreasonable, and had warned that it may lead to the policy being invoked.  They had written to clearly explain the restrictions being imposed, and explained the process for reviewing the decision (at least every three months).

SPSO Decision 201306096, Glasgow City Council

This complaint was upheld in part.  The SPSO determined that the application of the policy to Mr. A had taken place after proper consideration had been given to the nature and frequency of his communication with staff.  There was no evidence that the Council had been inconsistent or that they had been unreasonable in not inviting Mr. A to meetings regarding the care of his child.

However, the process for review of the decision had not been properly followed, and the complaint about the policy itself had been delayed.  Appropriate recommendations on these points were made.

SPSO Decision 201407836, Scottish Borders Council

While not upholding a complaint by a member of the public who had been turned away from a public event duet to his behaviour, the SPSO did recommend (for the sake of completeness) that the witness to the incident identified by Mr. C be contacted to see whether their testimony would have an effect on the decision.

SPSO Decision 201202410, Glasgow City Council

The SPSO found that the complainer in this case met the criteria for bringing the policy into effect – in terms of her behaviour and demands (which were related to complaints on noise).  While the Council would no longer respond to her e-mails or phone calls, they had left open a means by which she could complain about anti-social behaviour or noise, and had continued to receive and respond to her letters.

As we might expect from the SPSO, these focus largely on procedural elements.  They are nonetheless a useful reminder of the need for clarity in why a policy is being applied, the issueing of a warning beforehand, and the ability to access processes for appeal and/or review of the decision.

One important postscript to all of this is to bear in mind Section 27 of the Equality Act 2010 which forbid discrimination by way of victimisation.  The legislation designates complaints that a person or body had breached the 2010 Act as protected acts.  It is unlawful for an education authority to subject someone to a detriment due to them making an allegation of unlawful discrimination (whether they refer to the Act or not).  So, a parent making allegations to a school of unlawful disability discrimination (e.g. a failure to provide reasonable adjustments for a disabled child) should not be subject to any kind of detriment (e.g. having their contact with the school restricted).  The same protection applies to bring court of Tribunal proceedings under the Act, or being a witness in such proceedings.  The protection of the Act does not apply to false allegations which are made in bad faith.

Here is an example of these provisions being used in relation to allegations of discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief under older equivalent legislation: Council pays out in school religion row.

There are no equivalent protections under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, although it may be argued that in many cases, an allegation of failure under the 2004 Act for a disabled pupil, will also amount (in effect) to an allegation of unlawful disability discrimination – and therefore be protected in the same way.

Image Credit:

http://www.thebluediamondgallery.com/typewriter/c/complaints.html

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.

 

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.

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/

Changing places consultation

Accessible toilets or “disabled toilets” do not necessarily meet the needs of all people with a disability.

People with profound and multiple learning disabilities, as well people with other physical disabilities such as spinal injuries, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis may need the additional equipment and space afforded by a Changing Places toilet in order to be able to use the toilets safely and comfortably.  This post from the Quinns, Trains and Cerebral Palsy blog explains things much better than I can.  And this one…

It can, however, be difficult to find a Changing Places toilet.  A growing campaign, led by the Changing Places Consortium is calling for  for Changing Places toilets to be installed in all large public places.

The Scottish Government has just launched a consultation on building standards for changing places.  The proposal is

The proposal is to require Changing Places, through building standards, in certain types of larger new buildings.  Such regulations would go some way to increase the provision nationally, albeit over a period of time.

It is a welcome step, and the detail of the regulation will be important.  For example, the consultation at present only includes secondary schools, and only where community facilities are also provided by that school.  This is a missed opportunity, and consideration should be given to widening the requirement to include all secondary schools, special schools and primary schools (perhaps subject to a minimum size).

While this is not an educational piece of legislation, schools are already exempt from the second requirement of the reasonable adjustments duty under the Equality Act 2010, which might otherwise have required such changes in existing buildings, depending on the various factors which might be at play (including cost).  Most education authorities’ Accessibility Strategies are not so ambitious as to include major works on things like Changing Places toilets.  And, of course, many new build schools have opened in recent years, pre-dating these regulations.

The presumption of mainstreaming and inclusion for all pupils requires that all pupils can access safe and suitable toilet facilities at school.

The consultation runs until 13 May 2019.  Please read it, and respond – and encourage others to do so as well.

 

 

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.

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.

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