How is Additional Support for Learning working in practice? A Scottish Parliament Education & SKills COmmittee Quick-read

In March 2017 the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee undertook a short inquiry into Additional Support for Learning in Scotland’s schools and has now published its findings.

ASN is an issue that has been raised regularly with the Committee and this led to the decision to hold a roundtable evidence session to hear a range of views and opinions on this issue, followed by a session with the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills for the Scottish Government perspective. The Committee also ran focus groups with teaching staff and university lecturers and three members of the Committee visited Dalkeith Community Campus to speak to teachers from two mainstream secondary schools about their experiences.

Members of the Committee, including Convener James Dornan MSP, meet with staff and pupils at Dalkeith Community Campus

The Committee also asked for written views to be submitted from academics, organisations and, importantly, those with real lived experience of additional support needs, including parents and school staff. in addition, the Committee asked for views online and received a huge response.

The Committee wants to thank all those who shared their perspectives on ASN, particularly those parents who shared personal and sensitive information on caring for their children and the challenge of ensuring their children receive the support they need in school. This information has been very valuable to the Committee, helping it to produce recommendations that reflect these personal experiences. These recommendations are summarised below.

Key issues

Throughout the inquiry, the following key issues became apparent from the evidence received:

A lack of resources on the implementation of the Additional Support for Learning policy means that the additional support needs of a large number of children are not being fully met, impacting on their education. In addition, this impacts on other pupils studying in mainstream education and on teaching and support staff, in the context of other work pressures.

• The process for establishing the need for support and the process of then receiving support, means parents have to fight for their child to receive support

Lack of resources

The Committee received lots of information suggesting that, due to a lack of resources, some children feel more excluded in a mainstream school setting than they may have done in a specialist school. In other words, the policy to include is having the opposite effect in some circumstances due to a lack of resources. The evidence points at a number of ways in which resources are not currently sufficient to support children who require specialist support. In particular, the reduction in the number of specialist staff in classrooms, the reduction in specialist support services and the reduction in special school places.

Nevertheless, the Committee is encouraged by the figures provided by the Cabinet Secretary on positive outcomes for those with additional support needs and to hear from a number of parents who wanted to tell us what a massive difference effective support from a particular person, school or education authority, in mainstream education, has made to the lives of their children.

Recommendations on resources

• The Scottish Government must assess the extent to which the policy to mainstream and the associated communications to education authorities are leading to mainstreaming in practice. More broadly, the Scottish Government must also assess the extent to which a lack of resources is impacting on the delivering the policy of inclusion for all children with additional support needs.

• The Scottish Government should undertake a quality assurance review of the implementation of the presumption to mainstream policy, placing emphasis on the direct experiences of parents (and by extension the children themselves), teachers and support staff in schools. This quality assurance review should feed in to the revised guidance planned by the Government.

• Given the evidence received, and the fact that the mainstreaming policy is a “cornerstone” of inclusivity in mainstream schools, the Committee considers that parliamentary oversight of the progress of the implementation of this policy is required. The Committee recommends that the Scottish Government reports to Parliament on an annual basis.

Other key issues and recommendations

Accessing appropriate support – the Committee welcomes the Scottish Governments review of the guidance on mainstreaming and recommends that the review includes a systematic assessment of each element of the process: recognition of an additional support need for a child, availability of support and receiving the correct placement. This should include assessing how resources are impacting on this – resource limitations that are impacting on these processes include:

o The number of trained ASN teachers and ASN assistants

o The availability of specialists including mental health specialists and educational psychologists

o The level of resources supporting the ASN tribiunal process and other appeal processes, and

o The availability of spaces in special needs schools

• As supporting children with ASN is an important part of closing the attainment gap, the Committee recommends that the Scottish Government analyses the extent to which a process that relies largely on parental involvement to have their child’s ASN recognised and supported, could potentially widen the gap.

• The Committee also recommends that the Scottish Government increases the provision of advocacy services and looks at how these could be best targeted at raising awareness and supporting parents from areas of deprivation.

• Due to the variation in education authority approach, the Committee is concerned that additional support needs are going unrecognised in some education authorities more than others and that the culture of the education authority, and some particular schools within education authorities, is also a factor. The Committee recommends that the findings of the Scottish Government working group, and information from the quality assurance review recommended above, should be used as a basis to explore with individual authorities any inexplicably low percentages of ASN in their area. The Committee asks that, when the Scottish Government has established which education authorities are a cause for concern, that the Government shares this information with the Committee so that the Committee can also seek to hold these authorities to account.

• The Committee recommends that the Scottish Government should undertake a financial review to find out the extent to which education authorities are spending in line with the level of need in their area. The Committee recommends that the Scottish Government undertakes this review in collaboration with education authorities and that it should be the basis of discussions with education authorities on future funding allocations.

• The Committee would welcome further investigation from the Scottish Government on how the education and ultimately the attainment of pupils in general is being impacted upon by insufficient resources being provided to support children with additional support needs.

• The Committee recommends that education authorities seek to collaborate more, including in designing and delivering training in order to avoid duplication of effort.

• In relation to teacher training, the Committee welcomes the undertaking from the Cabinet Secretary to highlight to the General Teaching Council for Scotland the Committee’s concerns that combining post-graduate training with the probationary year will limit further the time available for new teachers to train in additional support needs.

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