CSP Report

At the end of November, the short-life working group on Co-ordinated Support Plans (CSPs) released its Final Report. The purpose of the report was to identify barriers to the effective implementation of the CSP legislation and to make recommendations to support progress.

The report begins, as these things often do, with a statement of principles. In this case, we are reminded that “Scottish education is based on the belief that education is a human right and that all children and young people should be supported to reach their full potential.” The Scottish Government’s intention to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is referenced, as are the four key features of inclusion, which we first saw in the guidance on the presumption of mainstreaming.

It also highlights, helpfully, that “Support is not dependent on a diagnosis.” and “Where the legal tests are met for a CSP, the child or young person must have a CSP – even where other plans are in place.” These short reminders could usefully be tattooed on the forearms of everyone working in the sector – although this is not one of the report’s recommendations.

As I am involved in the My Rights, My Say project, I was pleased to see that the report notes the right of children aged 12-15 with capacity to ask the education authority to be assessed for a CSP and to challenge CSP decisions at Tribunal.

So, to the recommendations. The report notes that the legislation and policy in this field is “commendable and well-intentioned” but that there is “a significant gap between policy and practice”. It highlights the need for “consistency and a common understanding of the language used in relation to CSPs”. To that end, it recommends promoting awareness and knowledge. This should involve “a set of tailored ‘key messages'” to be “widely shared with children and young people, parents and carers and professionals across agencies” – including social work and health.

However, I think there are already some really good materials out there, both those created by some education authorities, and those made by the third sector, by organisations like Enquire. The difficulty, as always, is getting this information to the right people at the right time.

The report does concede that the statutory criteria are complex, and that (over 15 years on!) there is still a “variable interpretation of what ‘significant additional support’ means when considering whether a CSP should be opened.” This is as close as the report gets to suggesting that the legislation itself needs to be looked at again. In fairness, this was outwith their remit, and is a fairly heavy hint.

The Code of Practice is due to be refreshed shortly, and the report sees this as an opportunity to ensure that it is more accessible, and clearly explains the “complex legal duties” in this field. While this is obviously easier said than done, it is definitely a worthwhile goal. The report also notes that the 4th edition of the statutory Code should clarify the relationship between the CSP and other plans used for children.

The report does understand that to help professionals become more familiar with the rules and policy around CSPs will take a commitment in time, and so recommends that professional (both in education and in other agencies) be allocated specific time to access the appropriate professional learning resources, and that this should lead to those professionals being able to “proactively provide families with the information they require about CSPs”.

Further recommendations include:

  • “ensuring that clear and appropriate signposting is available on local authority web pages”
  • further guidance to be developed “to remove barriers to effective engagement”
  • the Additional Support for Learning Implementation Group (ASLIG) to engage with work on “streamlining planning processes”. Specifically we are told that “the next phase of the refresh of the GIRFEC policy and practice materials .. will focus on the Child’s Plan, with the aim of moving towards a ‘one child one plan’ approach.” This is expected to lead to “[s]trengthening guidance around a single planning process”
  • ASLIG to consider the issue of resources (often the elephant in the room), having regard to “the need to ensure that there are sufficient numbers of appropriately trained staff to provide support”.
  • ASLIG to support “the planned audit of outcomes for children and young people with additional support needs undertaken by Audit Scotland.” Given that this has been something of a hobby horse for ASLIG for a while now, I’d imagine that this support would be enthusiastically forthcoming!

The renewed focus on the Child’s Plan in this report is interesting, given that the baby of the Child’s Plan appears to have been (legislatively) thrown out with the bathwater of the Named Person in the proposed repeal “in due course” of sections of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, following the Supreme Court‘s decision in The Christian Institute & Ors v. The Lord Advocate [2016] UKSC 51.

So, what happens next? “This report has been shared with ASLIG who will publish a response to the report and consider its findings as part of their future work programme and priorities. This will include consideration of how to monitor delivery of the actions identified and the expected impact on improving outcomes for children and young people.” I’ll try to keep you posted as that happens.

Exclusion statistics 2020/21

The Summary Statistics For Schools In Scotland 2021 have been released, with the more detailed stats being available as of March 2022. These statistics are based on the annual pupil census (conducted in September 2021) and the attendance, absence and exclusion returns for the 2020 to 2021 school year. As always, I am particularly interested in the exclusion statistics.

As you may be aware, exclusion statistics are collected only every other year, so the previous data is from 2018/19. Since then there has been a 44% drop in the number of exclusions – with education authorities noting that Covid-19 related school closures as a reason for this reduction.

In the whole of Scotland, for the last academic year, only one pupil was permanently excluded from a (local authority) school – referred to in the statistics as being “Removed from register”. I am not convinced that this is accurate. My (admittedly anecdotal) impression is that education authorities are taking a leaf out of the independent schools’ playbook and finding other, less formal ways of removing pupils from their schools. One case I dealt with earlier this year involved the education authority insisting that they had not excluded my client, they had merely decided to move all her learning opportunities outwith the school building!

Boys are more than three times more likely to be excluded than girls. Depressingly, pupils with additional support needs are almost five times more likely to be excluded, and pupils living in areas most associated with deprivation are four times more likely to be excluded than those in the least deprived areas. The summary statistics don’t specifically highlight the figures for looked after children, but these have not historically been a pretty picture – despite recent commitments to end the practice.

It remains the case then, that exclusion – which is known to have long-term damaging effects, and which is not effective as a management tool – is disproportionately targeted on our most vulnerable pupils. Disabled pupils facing exclusion have an effective remedy available in the Health and Education Chamber Tribunal, which has found more than one education authority to be systemically discriminating against disabled pupils in their exclusion policies and procedures. However, looked after children, and those from deprived areas have to make do with the largely ineffective education appeal committee appeals process.

Welsh lessons

So, I came across an article on Special Needs Jungle on the new Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018, which came into force on 1 September 2021. This seems to represent a sweeping change in the special educational needs framework (now to be known as additional learning needs). You can read about the changes here: The new “rights-based” Additional Learning Needs system in Wales

Welsh Government Factsheet

Based on what I have read, there are some interesting and welcome features in this new legislation:

  • Covers ages 0 to 25, as opposed to 3-18 (roughly) in Scotland
  • A single statutory plan for everyone with additional learning needs, as opposed to a tiny proportion who fit with the arcane criteria for a Co-ordinated Support Plan (CSP)
  • A focus on local resolution of disagreements, backed by wide and consistent rights of access to the Education Tribunal for Wales
  • A “whole system” approach, including external agencies and the stages before and after school
  • A Code of Practice which embeds principles from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

As you know, the ASN Review is now in its implementation phase, and we are currently waiting for the review on CSPs to report and a revision to the Code of Practice (I think). So, plenty of opportunities to adopt some of these ideas from Cymru.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Potential Energy (Conclusion)

So, to recap…

Back in June 2020, the report of the independent review of the implementation of Additional Support for Learning legislation in Scotland was published.  The review was chaired by Angela Morgan, and the report, which is worth reading in its entirety, is titled “Support for Learning: All our Children and All their Potential”.

A formal response from Scottish Government and COSLA was issued, which accepted all of the recommendations (save for those which required external input, e.g. involving the Universities delivering initial teacher education) and set up a monitoring framework.

What did Children and Young people tell the Review?

The report begins with a statement of what children and young people might think about the implementation of the law on additional support needs. This is, undoubtedly, a very good place to start. However, it also laments the smaller than hoped for numbers of young contributors to the review.

The Young Ambassadors for Inclusion provided the headlines for this section of the report, highlighting from the outset: “Meaningful relationships between children and young people and staff are important for learning;”

This is a key point, which the review returns to time and time again.

Children and young people also underlined the importance of “willingness to adapt teaching methods to children and young people’s learning styles” and the importance of school being a safe place for them.

Other points noted by the younger contributors included:

  • school staff need to have more knowledge and understanding of additional support needs;
  • the ability and capability of pupils with additional support needs must not be underestimated;
  • more understanding and empathy from peers is needed;
  • timely (and, I presume, effective) responses to bullying are important;
  • consistency of support is required; and
  • communication needs to improve.

Participation

Central to all of this is involving children and young people with additional support needs:

“Children and young people have their own views on what works for them and what kind of support they need.”

For children aged 12 to 15 with additional support needs, My Rights, My Say provides free, independent advocacy to assist children in making use of their legal rights under this legislation.  However, that is only the tip of the iceberg, and pupil participation needs to be embedded within the education system.

Indeed, the first, and overarching, recommendation from the review is on Children and Young People’s Participation:

“Children and young people must be listened to and involved in all decision making relating to additional support for learning. Co-creation and collaboration with children, young people and their families will support more coherent, inclusive and all-encompassing policy making, which improves implementation, impact and experience.”

The good practice of the Tribunal in this area is specifically noted elsewhere in the report: “the needs and preferences of the small number of children and young people who engage with the Tribunal, are evident in the detail of the architectural and interior design of the Tribunal offices, and the operational processes developed to reduce stress and distress.”

Resources – and relationships

The ASL review does not shy away from difficult issues, nor from stepping beyond its strict boundaries when it is necessary to do so.  It is does therefore, highlight the many concerns that exist around funding for additional support for learning as well as the impact of pressure on local authority resources more generally (the term “austerity” is used seven times in the report).

This was also a point that was made by the children and young people who contributed to the report: “Additional Support for Learning needs to be adequately funded to ensure everyone gets the support they need, when they need it.”

The report therefore recommended that its own findings are considered as part of the recent Audit Scotland thematic review of Additional Support for Learning.

However, as important, if not more so, are the staff resources actually delivering the support to children and young people day by day.  The commitment and understanding of those staff and the quality of the relationship between staff, pupil and parents can make or break the educational experience.  Parents contributing to the review spoke of the importance of a professional who “just gets it”.

Time and time again, the review returns to the importance of relationships.  Indeed, two of the report’s nine themes have “relationships” in the title.  Especially in those chapters, but also throughout the report, the fundamental importance of honest trusting relationships is stated again and again.

While this is something that can be taught (and learned), it is much more difficult to legislate for, let alone enforce.   

The Tribunals (and those of us who practise within the Tribunal jurisdictions) have a part to play.  Indeed, the review notes that “it is essential that rights and associated processes for .. the Tribunal should be clear and understood and barriers to access removed”, while also recognising the heavy drain on resources (both financial and emotional) that it can be for all involved. 

Ultimately, it is the success or otherwise of the measures and recommendations from the report as a whole which will determine which cases (and how many) still require to be adjudicated in this way.  The first report on progress against the various recommendations is due from the Additional Support for Learning Implementation Group (ASLIG) in October 2021.  It is important that the report is not just accepted, but actually leads to significant and lasting change for the children and young people whose interests and rights lie at the heart of it.

This article first appeared in the May 2021 newsletter of the Health and Education Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland.

Image by LeoNeoBoy from Pixabay

Potential Energy (Part 10)

The ninth, and final, theme within the ASL Review is “Assurance mechanism and inspection” – which sounds dull, but it extremely important. After all, there is little point in having a review and publishing a report filled with recommendations if no-one is making sure that those recommendations are actually being put into practice and making a difference for children with additional support needs.

Continue reading “Potential Energy (Part 10)”

Manifesto Review – Scottish Parliamentary Elections 2021

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

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

Continue reading “Manifesto Review – Scottish Parliamentary Elections 2021”

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

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

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

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

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

Potential Energy (Part 8)

The section of the ASL Review which covers Theme 7: Relationships and behaviour is on the short side for such an important topic. But that it because it is largely reiterating things which are already well known and have been covered well in recent years by other documents and initiatives, including:

In particular, the review recognises as a “key point of principle” that:

All behaviour is communication.

Included, Engaged and Involved Part 2
Continue reading “Potential Energy (Part 8)”

Potential Energy (Part 7)

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

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

Continue reading “Potential Energy (Part 7)”

Taking Stock – the Audit Scotland education report

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

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

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