Learning Disability Week 2018

It is Learning Disability Week 2018: a week focusing on, and celebrating, the lives and talents of people with learning disabilities in Scotland. The theme this year is “My Generation” – aiming to highlight the experiences of young people with a learning disability, and what changes can be made so that this generation can reach their goals in life.

Education is critical to creating opportunities for children with learning disabilities, and the right support and environment can make all the difference. In Scotland, Section 15 of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000 provides children with learning disabilities with the right to be educated in a mainstream school (although there are some specific exceptions) and the education system in Scotland is structured around this concept of inclusive education.

We’ve come a long way

Educating pupils with learning disabilities in Scotland has evolved considerably since the Warnock Report in 1978 – and the passing into law of the “presumption of mainstreaming” did not mark the end of the process. Far from it. Over subsequent years, there has been a progressive increase in the recognition of the rights of all pupils to have fair access to education.

The Education (Disability Strategies and Pupils’ Educational Records) (Scotland) Act 2002 introduced the requirement for Accessibility Strategies for education authorities and independent schools, with an emphasis on:

  1. increasing the extent of participation in education;
  2. improving the physical environment of schools; and
  3. improving communication with pupils with a disability.

The revised Scottish Government guidance on Accessibility Strategies is particularly good, and well worth reading.

“..through Curriculum for Excellence, the curriculum in Scotland is recognised as the totality of experiences which are planned for children and young people through their education, wherever they are being educated. This totality includes the ethos and life of the school as a community, curriculum areas and subjects, interdisciplinary learning and opportunities for achievement.

“Disabled pupils have exactly the same curriculum entitlements as their non-disabled peers.”

Accessibility Strategies guidance (Scottish Government, 2014)

The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 introduced the concept of additional support needs and aimed to modernise and strengthen the system for supporting children’s learning needs. Alongside this sits the Equality Act 2010 (replacing the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and others) which makes disability discrimination in schools unlawful.

Importantly, the legislative framework (particularly the Equality Act 2010) aims for the inclusion of pupils with disabilities not just in the classroom, but in the playground, after-school clubs, school social events, school trips etc. Full inclusion in the whole life of the school is the aim.

“the way in which a trip is organised can lead to discrimination if, for example, the necessary reasonable adjustments are not made for a disabled pupil. A school is less likely to discriminate if it plans a trip taking into account the need to include all pupils irrespective of their protected characteristics rather than if it arranges a trip and then tries to adapt it to make it inclusive. ”
Technical Guidance for Schools in Scotland, para 3.10 (Equality & Human Rights Commission, 2014)

Has inclusion been achieved in practice?

The framework for inclusion is in place, and when supported by well-trained teachers, assistants, allied health professional and other external agencies, the benefits to the child and the whole class is manifest.

One family, providing evidence to the Education and Skills Committee in 2017 noted that they were encouraged to pursue mainstreaming for their child with Down’s Syndrome when a young friend pointed out:

“that some young people might also want to meet and help people like our daughter and this made us think of a more positive side to mainstreaming, which meant that others (staff included) might benefit and blossom meeting her”

Four years later they and their daughter have not looked back…

The opportunities now available to her, both socially and educationally, could not have been provided to the same extent had their daughter not attended mainstream school. They certainly would not have been available to her forty, or even twenty, years ago.
There are many successful inclusion stories, but there are also concerns that some children’s needs are not being met in mainstream – and an ever present suspicion that finance, and not inclusion is driving the push to mainstream.

So, what’s next?

The Education and Skills Committee’s recent investigation noted inconsistencies across education authorities and schools. The provision was better in schools whose ethos embraced inclusion and where individual teachers adopted inclusive practices as a matter of course. There was also evidence of children from advantaged backgrounds receiving better support as their parents pushed for identification, and after that the appropriate support.

Education authorities and schools need to have a consistent approach to inclusion. It should not be left to a child’s parents (although their involvement in the system is to be encouraged). In instances where mainstream school is not appropriate, this needs to be identified as early as possible – without waiting for crisis point to be reached.

Resources are always an issue, but the resources need to be spent wisely as well. My own view is that significant additional resources spent now on intensive training and awareness building for front-line teaching staff would pay dividends in the not too distant future.

Scottish Government remain committed to mainstreaming, and inclusion, but are reviewing the best way to put these principles into practice.

In their consultation, which closed for comment in February 2018, they cast light on how they intend to support authorities in this process, by introducing a newly created draft guidance for mainstreaming. According to the Scottish Government:

“This non-statutory guidance will present a vision for mainstreaming, building on the best available evidence on inclusive approaches to education. It will aim to touch upon other, complementary policies as part of a joined-up approach. The guidance has been developed to support all local authorities, all schools, and all teachers and practitioners.”

The four key principles are to:

  • Improve outcomes;
  • Meet the needs of all children and young people;
  • Support and empower children, young people and all those involved in their education; and
  • Outline an inclusive approach which identifies and addresses barriers to learning for all children.

Implementation of the presumption of mainstreaming requires a commitment to inclusive practice. The guidance links inclusive practice with the presumption throughout and includes key features of inclusion and guidance on how to improve inclusive practice in schools. While these could be more strongly worded (and may yet be revised in the final draft), I am of the view that the revised guidance will be an important stepping stone towards a truly inclusive system.

My own response to the Scottish Government consultation on the presumption of mainstreaming can be read elsewhere on this blog.

Additionally, the Scottish Government is researching inclusion in practice to get a wider understanding of the current state of play. It is hoped that the final research report will be available by the end of the summer. Both the consultation responses and the research will be used to inform the final version of the guidance and future policy development and reporting.

Online resources on inclusive education for practitioners are being developed by Education Scotland, along the same lines as the Addressing Dyslexia Toolkit.
These next steps in the journey are of critical importance and all those involved in education must strive to make sure that inclusion is not just jargon, but becomes a daily reality for pupils in every school in Scotland. Children with learning disabilities deserve no less.


I am a trustee of the Scottish Commission for Learning Disability, but this article (as with everything on this site) is a personal view.

Get involved with Learning Disability Week and let as many people as possible know about it by applying the handy Learning Disability Week themed designs from the SCLD website to your social media channels and documents.

Use #LDWeek2018 in your posts to raise awareness and help SCLD to keep all news related to the week in one place!

The Scottish Commission for Learning Disability is

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Do Check Plan & Act

Education authorities in Scotland should be paying attention at the back, following a decision under the Equality Act 2010 and its application to the planning of additional support for disabled pupils. A recent Tribunal decision (now upheld on appeal) found that a failure to provide an adequate Co-ordinated Support Plan (CSP) amounted to unlawful disability discrimination by the Council.

The duty to provide a CSP is not found in the Equality Act 2010 but in Section 2 of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004. The fact that a failure to comply with a duty in this unrelated statute can amount to discrimination is of particular importance – especially for pupils who are both disabled and have additional support needs. Alert readers may recall the case of DM v. Fife Council in which the Council’s failures under the post-school transition duties under the 2004 Act, led to a finding of discrimination under the 2010 Act.

Continue reading “Do Check Plan & Act”

ASN Tribunal launches child centered website

Perhaps anticipating a rush of applications following the recent extension of rights for 12 to 15 year old pupils, the Health and Education Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Additional Support Needs) has launched its website ‘needs to learn’. And very helpful it is too.

The Additional Support Needs Tribunal is set up to adjudicate on disability discrimination claims relating to school, as well as references made under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004.

In Scotland, most children over the age of 12 are deemed to have the capacity to make a disability claim directly, and not rely on their parents to do so on their behalf. For additional support needs references, the process is a bit more complex than that, involving assessment of both capacity and wellbeing. Nonetheless, most pupils aged 12-15 with additional support needs should also be in a position to access the Tribunal directly.

The recent extension of rights for this age group enables pupils to ask their school or local authority if they need extra educational support and, if they do, allows them a say in how that is provided. This places the child front and centre in their education journey.

Equipping children with the information and support required to make a claim or reference to the Tribunal is a critical part of this empowerment. The needs to learn website sets out to do just that.

The website is easy to navigate and is split into to two main sections. One providing general information and the other aiming to guide a child through the steps required to make a claim or a reference.

The information section has helpful contacts, including that of the My Rights, My Say service, that was set up by the Scottish Government at the beginning of the year, along with that of Enquire and the Equality Advisory and Support Service. Importantly this section also explains commonly used legal terms in an attempt to demystify the legal process and explains what happens once a claim or reference has been made. It also outlines all the options available to allow the child’s voice to be heard through the tribunal process.

The remaining part of the site contains practical information to help a child make an application to the tribunal, be that a claim or a reference. This is a great resource for pupils and their parents and carers alike. Even if an appeal is made by the parent on behalf of their child, then the information section will still assist in explaining the process to the child and outline all the ways in which they can participate in it.

There is a very short time limit for making an appeal to the tribunal (two months in many cases). If you think you may have been discriminated against, or are not receiving the right educational support, then please contact one of the organisations contained in the tribunal information section, or a solicitor, as soon as possible.

Excluded from school – what next?

The research evidence on exclusions from school make for grim reading.

The 2013 Edinburgh Study on Youth Transition and Crime found that pupils who were excluded from school at age twelve were four times more likely to be jailed as adults.

Boys, children living in single parent families, and pupils from the poorest communities were most likely to be excluded from school. Equally badly behaved pupils from more affluent areas and those from two parent families were accorded greater tolerance and, as a consequence, were far less likely to be expelled.

The study findings show that one of the keys to tackling Scotland’s high imprisonment rates is to tackle school exclusion. If we could find more imaginative ways of retaining the most challenging children in mainstream education, and ensuring that school is a positive experience for all Scotland’s young people, this would be a major step forward.
– Professor Susan McVie, Co-director of the study

Additionally, Scottish Government statistics from December 2015 reveal that pupils with additional support needs are more than four times more likely to be excluded than pupils with no additional support needs.

And all of this records only formal exclusions, for which there is a paper trail. By definition, the use of “informal exclusions”, cooling off periods, invitations to remove a child, part-time timetables and other means of denying a child their right to education – are not recorded and therefore not widely understood. Anecdotally, this affects children with additional support needs and/or disabilities disproportionately.

Parents (and children with capacity – usually aged 12 or over) have a right of appeal against a school exclusion, whether it is a temporary exclusion or a removal from the school roll.

As things stand, an appeal will be heard, in the first instance, by the education appeal committee. After that, the parent, young person or child has a further right of appeal to the Sheriff Court. The appeal committee has the power to confirm or overturn the exclusion, and to vary any conditions for readmission. The Sheriff, on appeal, has the same powers.

In terms of the Tribunals (Scotland) Act 2014, this jurisdiction will be transferred to the First-Tier Tribunal for Scotland in due course – which is a very welcome change. A right of further appeal will lie to the Upper Tribunal for Scotland. This should make the process of appeal more transparent, independent and accessible.

The right of appeal only applies in relation to public schools, i.e. those managed by the local authority – although some independent schools may have equivalent procedure in place (e.g. an appeal to the board of governors).

Where the excluded child has a disability, an exclusion from school may amount to unlawful disability discrimination in terms of the Equality Act 2010. This is a complex piece of legislation and it can be difficult to tell without specific legal advice whether an act of discrimination has taken place.

A disability claim can be made in respect of any school exclusion, whether the school is an independent, grant-aided or education authority school. Such claims must be made within six months of the exclusion, and are heard by the Additional Support Needs Tribunals for Scotland. The Tribunals have much broader powers that the appeal committee, which might include ordering an apology, staff training, a change in the school’s (or Council’s) policy on exclusions etc. The Tribunal cannot, however, make an order for compensation.

Where a child with additional support needs has been excluded from school, do remember that there are routes by which that decision can be challenged. Particularly where the use of exclusion has become commonplace or is adversely affecting the child’s education or wellbeing, an appeal or a disability claim may be well worth considering.

Religious observance in special schools

As you may have read elsewhere, the Humanist Society of Scotland are bringing a judicial review against the Scottish Government’s decision not to review the law in relation to religious observance in schools.  At present, the law affords an opt-out for parents, but not for children.

Links:

Following on from recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child at the last UK “inspection”, the Humanist Society called upon the Scottish Government to review the law to allow older children to take their own decision.  The Scottish Government have refused, stating:

“There is no equivalent statutory right to withdraw afforded to children and young people. However many schools will find it helpful and sensible to include young people in any discussions about opting out, ensuring their wishes are aired.”

My own views on this are already on record elsewhere, and have been for some time:

“The right to withdraw from religious instruction or observance is given to the parent of a pupil, rather than to the pupil themselves. In light of more recent legislation, including the Human Rights Act 1998 (cf. art.9: freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and the Equality Act 2010, schools should also have regard to the views of the child in relation to such matters.”

And what does the law actually say?  It can be found in three main places, which is not always appreciated.  As always the legislation is written as if all children have only one parent (or two who always agree on everything) – there is no rule for what happens if parents disagree about religious observance!

First, Section 9 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 sets out the basic rule, under the section heading “Conscience clause”, which is to the effect that the parent of a pupil at a public school has the right to withdraw them from “any instruction in religious subjects” and “any religious observance” in any public school or grant-aided school.  Interestingly, the term “pupil” is used here, rather than child – so the right remains with parents in relation to pupils even after they have turned 16.  Remember also that this is a right to withdraw, not a right to ensure participation.  Arguably – and this may indeed be what the Scottish Government end up arguing – a child or young person who wishes to withdraw from religious observance could insist on other rights (the Human Rights Act 1998 or Scotland Act 1998 in terms of their Article 9 rights) to achieve that result.  There is nothing in this preventing the school from granting such a request.

The children’s rights issue arising from Section 9 would be where a pupil wishes to participate in religious observance – and is prevented from doing so by reason of a parent’s withdrawal request.  An interesting cause for the Humanist Society to be taking up!

Section 10 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (“Safeguards for religious beliefs”) applies to pupils who board at a residential school (or at a hostel for educational purposes).  This affords parents the right to insist on the child being permitted to attend worship, receive religious instruction and participate in religious observance in accordance with the tenets of their parents’ religion.  There is no equivalent to this for the child, but again the duty on the school is to permit the child to do these things (outside school hours and not incurring unreasonable costs) – there is no requirement to compel the pupil to take part.  Nor is there anything preventing the school from allowing the pupil to participate in worship in relation to their own religious beliefs (if they differ from those of their parents).

Finally, Regulation 12(3) of the Schools (General) Regulations 1975 applies to pupils at a special school (includes a special unit within a mainstream school).  This ensures that no education authority may compel a pupil to attend religious observance or receive religious instruction against the wishes of their parents.  Further, it requires the authority to give the parent an opportunity to express their wishes – a requirement not present in the other sections.  Again, the children’s rights issue which may arise is that of a child who wishes to attend religious observance – although this could be permitted, so long as it is not compelled!

The law is no doubt in need of revision – even the terminology barely fits modern educational practice – particularly in non-denominational schools.  However, the Scottish Government’s position is that the law does comply with pupils’ Convention Rights (when read with the guidance and Curriculum for Excellence).  Given the nature of the duties set out above, this may just be correct – although there may be a question mark over how well schools understand this.  If there is an area where the law may breach a pupil’s Convention rights it is for the child who wishes to attend religious observance, but is prevented from doing so because of their parent’s decision to withdraw them.

 

Reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils

Some pupils with additional support needs are also disabled and, as such, enjoy the additional protections of the Equality Act 2010.

One of these additional protections is the reasonable adjustments duty.

The duty to make reasonable adjustments includes three requirements:

  1. adjustments to avoid substantial disadvantage arising from a provision, criterion or practice (“PCP”);
  2. adjustments to avoid substantial disadvantage from the physical features of a building;
  3. adjustments to avoid substantial disadvantage by providing an auxiliary aid (or auxiliary service).

The second requirement does not apply to schools. In Scotland, the Education (Disability Strategies and Pupils Educational Records) (Scotland) Act 2002 apply instead. This Act requires responsible bodies for schools to draft an accessibility strategy, which sets out planned improvements to the physical accessibility of the school (among other things). Cf. “Planning improvements for disabled pupils’ access to education: Guidance for education authorities, independent and grant-aided schools” (Scottish Government Guidance).

A failure to comply with a reasonable adjustments duty in relation to any disabled person amounts to unlawful discrimination.

The reasonable adjustments duty for schools applies in relation to:

  1. deciding who is admitted to the school; and
  2. providing education or access to a “benefit, facility or service” (this might include school lunches, uniform policy, playtimes, out of school trips, after-school clubs, assemblies, discipline etc. etc.).

In deciding whether an adjustment would be reasonable or not, you should read and consider the Technical Guidance for schools in Scotland, which gives a list of factors to bear in mind together with several useful examples.

Without intending to be exhaustive, and in no particular order, the following are some of the factors that are likely to be taken into account when considering what adjustments it is reasonable for a school to have to make:

  • The extent to which taking any particular step would be effective in overcoming the substantial disadvantage suffered by a disabled pupil;
  • The extent to which support will be provided to the pupil under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, as amended;
  • The resources of the school and the availability of financial or other assistance;
  • The financial and other costs of making the adjustment;
  • The practicability of the adjustment;
  • The effect of the disability on the individual;
  • Health and safety requirements;
  • The need to maintain academic, musical, sporting and other standards;
  • The interests of other pupils and prospective pupils.

Technical Guidance (6.29)

Example:
A pupil with learning difficulties is excluded for repeatedly getting up from his seat during lessons and disrupting other pupils. It is the school’s policy that repeated disruptive behaviour is punished by exclusion. The school is under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to its policy, which might mean disregarding some of the disruptive behaviour and working with the pupil to find a way in which to help him to remain in his seat during lessons.
Technical Guidance (4.12)

Example:
A visually impaired child requires printed handouts to be prepared in 24pt font or larger. This can easily be accommodated by ensuring that fonts are reset to this size prior to any documentation being printed.
Technical Guidance (6.45)

A school’s duty to make reasonable adjustments is often referred to as an “anticipatory duty” and it is owed to disabled pupils generally. Therefore, schools must plan ahead and consider in advance what disabled pupils may require, rather than simply responding to difficulties as they arise.