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

Programme for Government 2021-22

The Scottish Government published its programme for government this week. I thought I’d take a quick look at what it says about additional support needs. There is a whole section on education, of course, and much of that will be relevant to all pupils (including those with additional support needs). There are also specific commitments in relation to care experienced pupils and those who are socio-economically disadvantaged. Many of these pupils would fall within the definition of “additional support needs” although that is not always as well recognised as it ought to be.

However, in terms of a specific mention of additional support for learning, we find it in Chapter 2:

We will act to close the gap for children and young people with additional support needs, developing a new approach for how their achievements and successes are recognised, and fully implementing the findings of the Additional Support for Learning (ASL) Review. We will ensure there is appropriate career progression and pathways for teachers looking to specialise in Additional Support for Learning – with the intention that this results in an increase to the number of teachers who specialise in ASL – and explore options for the development of an accredited qualification and registration programme for Additional Support Needs assistants with final proposals to be brought forward by autumn 2023.

A Fairer, Greener Scotland: Programme for Government 2021-22

This is, as others have commented, nothing new. The Scottish Government have already committed to implementing the recommendations of the ASL Review, and the specific commitments about recognising and celebrating wider achievement, providing an ASL-specific career path for teachers, and accrediting ASN assistants, are all taken from that self-same review. Indeed, we are shortly due ASLIG‘s first annual report on the implementation of the recommendations of the ASL Review.

More on that as it becomes available.

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

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”

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)”

Potential Energy (Part 5)

Theme 4 of the ASL Review is on resources. The remit of the review specifically stated that it was to consider implementation “within existing resources”. The review report, therefore, “includes limited comment on resources”, deferring more detailed consideration of this key issue to the forthcoming Audit Scotland thematic review of Additional Support for Learning.

Having said all of that, the review report still has much to say on the subject which is both perceptive and helpful.

Continue reading “Potential Energy (Part 5)”

ASL Review Action Plan published

The Scottish Government and COSLA have issued their action plan in response to the ASL Review today. You can read the action plan here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/additional-support-learning-action-plan/.

As you know, I am in the process of working my way through the review itself in detail, and will return to a detailed coverage of the action plan once that is complete.

However, in the meantime, a quick summary.

Almost all of the recommendations in the review are accepted, with one set of recommendations being partially accepted. True to form, there is much set out here which is already in place or underway. The first review of progress against the recommendations is due by October 2021.

Continue reading “ASL Review Action Plan published”

Dyspraxia Awareness Week 2020

This week (4-10 October 2020) is Dyspraxia Awareness Week. According to the NHS, “Developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD), also known as dyspraxia, is a condition affecting physical co-ordination. It causes a child to perform less well than expected in daily activities for their age, and appear to move clumsily.”

It can also have a wider impact, affecting things like processing, short-term memory and spacial awareness.

Continue reading “Dyspraxia Awareness Week 2020”

Potential Energy (Part 3)

Following consideration of Theme 1: Vision and visibility, we turn our attention to Theme 2: Mainstreaming and inclusion. This obviously covers a lot of the same ground as the revised “Guidance on the presumption to provide education in a mainstreaming setting” on which I recently completed a ten-part series of blogs. You can read my conclusions on that guidance in Mainstreaming, I presume? (Part 10).

Thankfully, this review reaches many of the same conclusions about mainstreaming, and explicitly adopts many of the key concepts and principles from the guidance:

  • the review confirms that the “physical presence of a child” in a mainstream school alone does not constitute inclusion;
  • it adopts the four principles of inclusion from the guidance – present, participating, supported and achieving; and
  • it underlines the importance of inclusion “in the life of the school” which includes the playground, school trips, sporting events, social events and being “visible as part of the community”.

Continue reading “Potential Energy (Part 3)”

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)”