Potential Energy (Part 2)

Continuing our consideration of the ASL Review Report, the main section of the report begins with “Theme 1: Vision and visibility”.  This covers two big issues.  One is that there is no defining national agenda or narrative in relation to additional support needs, demonstrated perhaps by their absence from the National Improvement Framework.  The second is that the term “additional support needs” continues to be misunderstood and misinterpreted, with the result that particular groups of children and young people who are covered by the law missing out on their rights in practice.

Continue reading “Potential Energy (Part 2)”

Recover Version

Education Scotland have issued an update of their Corporate Plan for 2019-2022, to take account of the impact of the recent interruptions to learning caused by school closures etc.

The document is called “Education Scotland: Our Recovery Year 2020/21” which does sound like they are struggling with addiction or something.  To educational jargon perhaps?

It is a relatively short and easy to read document, which recognises that the pandemic has had “huge implications for the education system”. They propose therefore to “lead and support the [education] system during a ‘recovery year’ up to June 2021”.

While noting the changed context, there are some things which remain constant, including the commitment to Education Scotland’s four values (which I had not heard of before): integrity, respect, excellence and creativity. I might quibble over whether “excellence” is really a value, but there we are…

There is clearly some concern that we are not out of the woods yet, and so one of the aims is to “increase the system’s resilience to continue to support learning in the event of any future national or local lockdowns.” and one of the ES outcomes listed is that the “education system is responsive and able to move into / out of lockdown smoothly if / as required.”.

This is most obviously reflected in the commitment to “continue to develop support for remote learning”, with Glow, Scotland Learns and e-Sgoil being name-checked specifically.

To free up capacity, the school inspection programme remains “on hold” though “targeted and risk based inspections” will be carried out as required.

This is a corporate plan document, so it’s fairly high level stuff, and perhaps not wholly surprising to see no mention of the particular impact on pupils with additional support needs – though there is a recognition in the introduction that “the impact of COVID-19 has not been felt equally .. for our different groups of learners”.

Image by Jagrit Parajuli from Pixabay

Mainstreaming, I presume? (Part 10 – Conclusions)

So, we have finally reached the end of the Scottish Government’s guidance on the presumption of mainstreaming.  Having gone through it in that level of detail, I have obviously had the opportunity to form a view on it.

Reading through the previous nine articles, you will see that I have some criticisms and some concerns in relation to individual sections.  However, overall, I would say that this guidance is pretty good.

It is well written and well structured.  It provides a useful working definition of inclusive education, through its use of the “four key features of inclusion”.  It is a practical document, which you can actually see education staff, parents and young people making use of in tackling the issues which arise.  The practitioner questions, in particular, are a really useful approach and identify the right questions without dictating an answer in any individual case.  It also valiantly attempts to move the terminology on from “mainstreaming” to “inclusive education / inclusion” while hampered with legislation which bears the crossheading “Requirement for mainstream education”.

So, as I was asked on the facebook page recently …

What’s your stance on presumption of mainstreaming?

A good question.

One of the points to consider here is how well the Scottish legislation (Section 15 of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000) implements Scotland’s international obligations (Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities).

But Section 15 was never an attempt to implement the UNCRPD.  Scotland’s presumption of mainstreaming law (passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2000) predates the UN Convention (came into force on 3 May 2008) by several years.

At that time, as far as I know, the leading international source for inclusive education was the UNESCO Salamanca Statement (from June 1994), with its call for children with special educational needs to have access to “regular schools” with an inclusive orientation”.

It is a measure of the speed at which progress was made that less than 15 years later, there was a UN Convention requiring all States Parties (including the UK) to ensure that “[p]ersons with disabilities can access an inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live;”  And it is therefore perhaps not surprising that legislation which predates that Convention does not fully reflect its requirements.  Time for a legislative review?

One of the big problems which exists here is with the terminology.  A “presumption of mainstreaming” – is almost tailor made to get parents’ backs up.  Why are you taking important decisions about my child on the basis of a presumption?  Look at them as an individual and make a decision that is best for them!

And look at how it is structured.  A duty on the education authority to ensure that children (subject to the three exceptional exceptions) are provided with school education in schools which are not special schools.  The assumption was that the presumption of mainstreaming was something which parents could use to ensure access to “regular schools”.  Too often, it is something which is imposed on parents against their better wishes.  This is compounded where the provision then does not deliver on reassurances made by education personnel (who may not work within the school in question).

What if the legislative language was not about taking children and deciding where to put them – like some kind of low-grade Sorting Hat?  What if, instead of a duty to place children in mainstream schools, the education authority had a duty to make its mainstream schools inclusive for all pupils?  What if, instead of a duty to put children in local schools, there was a duty to make local schools accessible, inclusive and welcoming for children with disabilities or additional support needs?

The Equality Act 2010 and the (oft-forgotten) accessibility strategies go some way to achieving this – but not far enough.  Just this year, I represented a family who could not send their child to the local school for want of an accessible toilet, which the authority refused to install for cost reasons.  Besides, there was an accessible school not too far away and we will pay for a taxi for you.  This is – as the law stands – perfectly legal.

It is not my role to make suggestions about how we could improve things, but if it were, I might suggest the following:

  1. Review and revise the legislation so that it better reflects Scotland’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  2. Strengthen the Accessibility Strategies process so that schools and authorities take it seriously, and they are externally audited (as they used to be).
  3. Schools should give parents at least an indication of the supports available for their child in advance of attendance.  Being told that the child will attend, and then the school will determine the level of support required is not at all reassuring.
  4. If a child is to attend a mainstream school, the right support and financial backing must be given to allow their full participation in all aspects of the school – after school clubs, school trips etc.
  5. Children and young people should be at the centre of and involved in decisions about their own education.
  6. A diversity of provision – including smaller, quieter schools – would be of benefit to a diverse range of learners.  Those with additional support needs and those without.

Thanks for sticking with me over the course of this ten part series, and for those who have provided useful comments and feedback.

Mainstreaming, I presume? (Part 9)

And so, we finally get to the core of the guidance, which is the duty itself and – almost as importantly – the three exceptions to that duty.  As the guidance notes: “If there is doubt about the suitability of mainstream provision, it is the role of the education authority to use the legislation to weigh up a range of matters including the child or young person’s wellbeing, in order to reach a conclusion on the application of the three exceptions..”

Continue reading “Mainstreaming, I presume? (Part 9)”

Educational Continuity (No. 3) Direction

The Scottish Government have issued a third Educational Continuity Direction on 2 July 2020, following the first two, which expired after 21 days. You can read all about the earlier ECDs in my blog posts, Educational Continuity Direction (21 May 2020) and Educational Continuity (No. 2) Direction.

The Educational Continuity (No. 3) Direction is exactly the same as the last one, apart from a couple of changes, and came into force at one minute past midnight, on Thursday 2 July 2020.

The big change in this one is that each education authority is required to plan and prepare for nursery provision (early learning and childcare, or ELC) and out of school care (or OOSC) to resume in educational establishments “no sooner than 15 July, having regard to relevant guidance issued by Scottish Ministers.”

The accompanying guidance suggests that this is likely to take place on 15 July 2020, following the review on transition to Phase 3 on 9 July 2020.

There is a corresponding tweak to the direction to allow staff to attend school premises in order to make preparations for out of school care re-opening.  Out of school care guidance is due to be published on 3 July 2020.  Finally, the ancillary provision section, which restricts access to educational establishments now includes a specific exception for “the provision of early learning and childcare and out of school care from 15 July 2020, subject to confirmation that such provision may resume being given by the Scottish Ministers no later than 9 July 2020.”

You may remember my comments about the use of the term “children” in the first and second directions.   The Educational Continuity Directions used the term “child/children” in the main, but also “pupils” and “young people”.  These all have different legal meanings.  In some places the term “child” was used where the provisions apply only to children – and not to those aged 16+, but elsewhere, the intention seemed to be that “child” should be read as including young people as well.  I am pleased to say that the language has been tightened up in this iteration, with the term “pupil” (which covers all ages) being used more often.

It remains the case that, in order to properly understand what is required, and what permitted, you need to read the direction itself – but also the relevant local and national guidance.

Educational Continuity (No. 2) Direction

The Scottish Government have issued a second Educational Continuity Direction, following the first, which expired on 10 June 2020.  You can read all about that one in my earlier blog post, Educational Continuity Direction (21 May 2020).

The Educational Continuity (No. 2) Direction is exactly the same as the last one, apart from two small but significant changes, and came into force at one minute past midnight, today Thursday 11 June 2020.

Access (by staff in the first place) to educational establishments will be permitted to facilitate and support children’s transitions (including those starting P1 & S1 in August).   As of Monday 15 June 2020, this can include attendance of pupils at school (but not at nursery school/classes).

It is perhaps unfortunate that the direction specifies “children’s transitions” and does not include the transitions of young persons (i.e. those aged 16+).  The main bulk of transitions will be for those at the nursery/P1 and P7/S1 stages, of course, but there will be some in the senior phase, especially those with additional support needs, who may require transition support at this time as well.

The second change is that, as of now, early learning and childcare can be provided if it is delivered “fully outdoors” having regard to Scottish Government guidance.

This is a similar wording to much of the rest of the direction, in that, in order to properly understand what is required, and what permitted, you need to read not only the direction itself (a slimline 4 pages); but also “relevant guidance issued by the Scottish Ministers”, any documents which set out the “appropriate local arrangements” and the guidance note which accompanies the direction, to work out what guidance is regarded as relevant to which bits.

Educational Continuity Direction (21 May 2020)

After nearly two months of schools in Scotland being closed, the Scottish Government have issued a formal direction, providing a legal basis for this state of affairs.

In terms of their powers to do so under Schedule 17 of the Coronavirus Act 2020,  Scottish Ministers have issued an Educational Continuity Direction, which came into force at 2pm on Thursday 21 May 2020.

As required by law, in making the direction Scottish Ministers a) had regard to advice regarding the coronavirus from Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer; and b) were satisfied that the direction was a “necessary and proportionate action” in relation to the continued provision of education.

Educational Continuity Direction

So, what does it do?

Geographical Coverage

The Direction applies across Scotland, and to all thirty-two education authorities.  There is no mention of independent or grant-aided schools, although the Act certainly allows for a direction to be issued which covers those schools (as well as further and higher education institutions).

Preparing to Re-open Schools

The direction requires education authorities to plan and prepare “for children to resume attendance at schools” – including nursery classes “at the earliest time it is safe to do so”, having regard to Scottish Government guidance.  In doing so, support for children at key transition points should be prioritised.

Staff may access schools from June 2020 for the purposes of planning and preparing (including any necessary alterations to premises) for the provision of:

  • learning and teaching on school premises and remotely “from August 2020”; and
  • early learning and childcare (i.e. nursery provision).

Continuing Provision

The direction also requires education authorities to support in-home learning “in accordance with appropriate local arrangements”.  This also applies (though perhaps to a lesser extent) to children receiving education at schools under the arrangements for vulnerable pupils and children of key workers.

Education authorities must provide education and childcare “pursuant to appropriate local arrangements” for:

  • the children of key workers (including NHS and social care staff); and
  • vulnerable children (including those eligible for free school meals, with complex additional support needs and at-risk children).

In doing so, the authority must have regard to relevant Scottish Government guidance.

Where the authority is unable to provide free school meals for children eligible for them, they are required to provide reasonable alternatives (e.g. other food and drink, vouchers, or cash).

In making provision or otherwise acting under this Direction, the authority must have regard to “the objective of preventing the transmission of coronavirus, to the welfare of children and young people and staff, and to the importance of continuity of education.”

Ancillary Provision

The direction requires education authorities to restrict access to their schools and nurseries, except as may be required for any of the above purposes, or for:

  • providing pupil estimates and grade rankings to the SQA;
  • maintaining the buildings and facilities;
  • using the buildings and facilities as part of the local authority’s pandemic response.

Legal Impact

One very significant effect of the direction is that it means that any failure to comply with a duty or time limit listed below is to be disregarded “to the extent the failure would be attributable to this Direction” –

A parental duty to comply with the duty to education your child (Section 30(1) of the 1980 Act) will be similarly disregarded.

Not that I am one for cross-border comparisons, but the position in England & Wales (as I understand it) is that the special educational needs (SEN) duties have largely been downgraded to a “reasonable endeavours” duty i.e. the LEA/school has a duty to make reasonable endeavours to make the required provision.

Here, the equivalent duty is to be disregarded entirely – although only to the extent that non-compliance was attributable to the direction itself. This is, in fact, stricter than it sounds.  As the guidance note points out “That means that any failures which cannot be attributed to a Direction would continue to be treated as a failure to comply with that duty or time limit.”

Duration and Review

The direction took effect at 2pm on Thursday, 21 May 2020 and remains in force for 21 days (or until revoked – if earlier). Effectively it will be reviewed and probably amended as we go on – every 21 days.  As the guidance note states: “It will be reviewed no later than 10 June, and it is expected that a further Direction will be made by 10 June to modify, replace or supplement it as appropriate.”

It does leave open the question – on what legal basis were the schools closed during the last two months, and what is the position re: the legal duties during that period?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Placing request timescales amended

The Education (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 came into force on 23 April 2020, having been laid before the Scottish Parliament at 4.30pm the day before.

In short, they give the education authority more time in which to take a decision on placing requests, and education appeal committees more time in which to hear appeals.

Changes to the Education (Placing in Schools) (Scotland) Regulations 1982

  • 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) is 31 May. This is effectively the deadline by which authorities should be taking these decisions. It has been extended from 30 April to 31 May.
  • 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 is at the end of 3 months following the receipt of the placing request by the education authority. This has been increase from 2 months to 3 months.
  • Where an education appeal committee has failed to hold a hearing of a placing request appeal within the period of 4 months 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 has been increased from 2 months to 4 months.
  • Where an education appeal committee has failed to fix a new date following an adjourned hearing of a placing request appeal within the period of 28 days 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 has been increased from 14 days to 28 days

Changes to the Education (Appeal Committee Procedures) (Scotland) Regulations 1982

  • An appeal committee must now acknowledge receipt of an appeal reference within 28 days (an increase from 5 “working days”).
  • A hearing of the appeal must be held by the appeal committee as soon as reasonable practicable within the period of 3 months following receipt of the reference (an increase from within 28 days). 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 as soon as reasonably practicable (changed from 14 days after receipt of the reference in most cases).
  • 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”.
  • 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.
  • Education appeal committees have 28 days to notify parties of their decision, and the reasons for it (changed from 14 days).

Changes to the Additional Support for Learning (Placing Requests and Deemed Decisions) (Scotland) Regulations 2005

These are the equivalent regulations to the Education (Placing in Schools) (Scotland) Regulations 1982, in relation to children and young people with additional support needs.

  • 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) is 31 May. This is effectively the deadline by which authorities should be taking these decisions. It has been extended from 30 April to 31 May.
  • 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 is at the end of 3 months following the receipt of the placing request by the education authority. This has been increase from 2 months to 3 months.
  • Where an education appeal committee has failed to hold a hearing of a placing request appeal within the period of 4 months 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 has been increased from 2 months to 4 months.
  • Where an education appeal committee has failed to fix a new date following an adjourned hearing of a placing request appeal within the period of 28 days 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 has been increased from 14 days to 28 days.
  • The deadline for the authority making known to the appellant and the committee all of the information relevant to their decision is now “as soon as reasonably practicable” (changed from “immediately”).

Observations

The changes to the education appeal committee regulations will impact on exclusion cases as well as placing request cases.

The deadline for a parental appeal to the education appeal committee remains the same at 28 days.

The deadlines applicable to appeals to the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Health and Education Chamber) remain the same. However, these were never as stringent in the first place, and are currently subject to the Guidance to Tribunal Members No 01/2020 “Hearings and the Covid-19 Outbreak” – which means that only time critical cases can currently proceed to a hearing (with a fairly strict definition of “time critical”).

As you know, most placing requests (including for children or young people with additional support needs) are heard by the education appeal committee. Appeals on placing requests for special schools (or special units), or for children and young people with a Co-ordinated Support Plan are heard by the Tribunal instead.

The implication of this is, of course, that if placing request decisions are not being taken until 31 May, and the appeal committee has up to four months to hear an appeal, in all likelihood that leads to significant numbers of appeals on placing requests not being heard until well into the next academic year. Apart from anything else, this makes transition planning for such cases challenging, to say the least.

The final point to make is that these regulations are not made under the new powers conferred by the Coronavirus Act 2020 or the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020. They are made using existing regulation making powers. As such, there is no expiry date on these changes, and no scheduled review date. These changes will remain in force until further regulations are passed to amend them.

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Case summary – Drexler v. Leicestershire County Council (Court of Appeal)

This case was an appeal to the Court of Appeal against a decision of the High Court, rejecting a human rights challenge brought against a change in the SEN transport to school policy of the local authority.  The case was Drexler v. Leicestershire County Council [2020] EWCA Civ 502 and while the appeal was unsuccessful and concerning provisions in English law, it has some useful and interesting points for us to consider.

Continue reading “Case summary – Drexler v. Leicestershire County Council (Court of Appeal)”