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”

Potential Energy (Part 6)

With apologies, first of all, for the gap in returning to the ASL Review, let us turn to Theme 5: workforce development and support. It is an obvious point that the success or otherwise of any child’s education is going to rely on the staff (teaching and non-teaching) involved in that education.

The review begins with a recognition that where things are working well for children with additional support needs that is primarily down to committed and determined individual staff members who make things work, in spite of the system (as opposed to because of it). That is quite a depressing thought, but also give some cause for optimism. Think how much better things could be once / if the other recommendations from the report are implemented.

Continue reading “Potential Energy (Part 6)”

Educational Continuity (No. 10) Direction

This latest of the educational continuity directions is significantly different from those which have recently preceded it, and so I will cover it in more detail than the last couple. This one runs from one minute past midnight on Saturday 13 March 2021 until one minute to midnight on Good Friday (2 April 2021) – i.e. from now ’til the Easter holidays.

As always, the Scottish Ministers, before issuing the direction, have consulted with the Chief Medical Officer and are satisfied that it is “necessary and proportionate” for the continued provision of education. The direction applies only to education authority provision, but in practice directions have been followed pretty closely by the independent sector as well.

The direction requires education authorities to:

  • plan and prepare for all pupils to return to school full-time “at the earliest time it is safe to do so”;
  • provide school education (during term time) to all primary age pupils in their schools;
  • provide school education (during term time) to all secondary age pupils in their schools – subject to local arrangements and Scottish Government guidance – in particular: children of key workers; S4-S6 pupils studying for a national qualification; and as much provision for other pupils (S1-S3) “as reasonably practicable”;
  • continue providing remote learning (during term time) for secondary age pupils as necessary to ensure that they receive “adequate and efficient school education” – including any school attendance they get; and
  • provide reasonable alternatives where free school meals cannot be provided to those pupils eligible for them.

Education authorities are still, however, required to restrict access to all schools (except nursery schools) other than where access is required for any of the above purposes, or:

  • for permitted use of outdoors sports activities;
  • for the facilitation of a Covid-19 testing programme;
  • for the maintenance of buildings and facilities;
  • for any aspect of the local authority’s response to coronavirus;
  • in relation to Scottish Parliament, local government or UK Parliament elections (if reasonable alternative arrangements cannot be made).

As before, any failure to comply with certain legal duties can be disregarded where the failure is a result of the direction. The duties covered by this rule are:

  • the duty to provide free school lunches (Section 53(2) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980);
  • the duty on parents to provide education (Section 30(1) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980);
  • the duty to make adequate and efficient provision for the additional support needs of children and young persons with such needs (Section 4(1) of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004); and
  • duties and time limits under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 – other than those relating to placing requests, which are covered in other amendments to those specific regulations.

Finally, in putting all of this into practice, the education authority must have regard to:

  • the objective of preventing the transmission of coronavirus;
  • the welfare of children and young people and staff;
  • the importance of continuity of education; and
  • relevant guidance issued by the Scottish Ministers.

As stated above, this direction will take us up to the Easter holidays. A further direction will presumably be issued thereafter which, all being well, should be less restrictive than this one.