Government accused of ‘sneaking out’ ASN review

Review exposes 'the scandal' of special needs education and should be widely discussed, says charity boss

Emma Seith

SEND: The Scottish government has been accused of ‘sneaking out’ a report on additional support needs (ASN) learning

The Scottish government has been accused of having “snuck out” a review that reveals the “rarely discussed scandal of the poor state of additional support needs (ASN) education in Scotland”.

The Scottish government’s long-awaited independent review of additional support for learning was commissioned amid fears that ASN pupils were being failed because schools did not have the resources to support them.

However, when the review was published on Friday – after being delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic – no press release was issued by the Scottish government.


Background: Swinney under fire over special needs funding

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Commenting on the report’s publication, Nick Ward, director of the National Autistic Society Scotland, said: “We need to all be talking about this excellent report. It was snuck out on Friday afternoon but it should be the leading thing on the radio and TV. It exposes the long-known but rarely discussed scandal of the poor state of additional support needs education in Scotland.”

In a tweet about the report’s publication on Friday, education secretary John Swinney said he was “very grateful” to the review chair, Angela Morgan – the former chief executive of youth charity Includem – and that the review would be “taken forward actively” by the Scottish government.

Improving support for ASN pupils

In an email to the Scottish Parliament's Education and Skills Committee sent on the day the review was published Mr Swinney also seemed to suggest that part of the reason for the Scottish government's muted response to the report was sensitivity to the hard work and "significant efforts" of school staff amid the demands of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Swinney wrote: "This report, and the engagement that informed it, was undertaken prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. As I am sure the committee will agree, all those involved in the education of children and young people are working incredibly hard to ensure that their learning and support continues. It is therefore important to stress that the report’s findings should not, in any way, detract from their significant efforts during this very difficult time.

"In light of the above considerations, I can confirm to the committee that the Scottish government will publish a full response to the report’s recommendations in the autumn of 2020.”

The review of additional support for learning was announced by the Scottish government in January last year and was due out in spring 2020, but its publication was delayed due to the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are the review's main findings:

  • The review highlights that the implementation of additional support for learning legislation in schools is “over-dependent on committed individuals, is fragmented, inconsistent and is not ensuring that all children and young people who need additional support are being supported to flourish and fulfil their potential”.
  • It found “a gap” between the intention of the legislation and the reality on the ground – but argued that ASN could no longer be viewed as “a minority area of interest”, given that 30.9 per cent of pupils have an additional support need.
  • Need had “significantly increased” at the same time as austerity had put “significant pressure on resources”; that was “clearly the most powerful driver in shaping the current reality of implementation”, said the review.
  • Other things influencing the low priority that ASN children were often given included “the dominance of attainment and qualification results as the measure for success in Scotland’s education system”, as well as the different cultures that existed in schools.
  • School staff were under “enormous pressure, often feeling unable to do the job they want” but the review added that the evidence did “not support the assumption that all individual professionals are signed up to the principles of inclusion and the presumption of mainstreaming” – some school staff “express a core belief that their role should only be to teach”.
  • Some ASN children – including those with social, emotional and behavioural needs, who make up the largest group in Scotland – were seen as “less “deserving” of attention.
  • The review made over 40 recommendations, including eight in relation to teacher education and development.
  • Among the recommendations were that all teachers should see inclusion as “a core part of their role”, and teacher education “must align with the changed and changing profile of children and young people in Scotland”.
  • The review called for a teaching qualification in additional support needs to be made available during initial teacher education and for there to be a “strand for additional support for learning” among the new career pathways being developed for teachers.
  • It also called for the National Improvement Framework – which is used to monitor the performance of the Scottish education system – to be “revised to ensure parity for additional support for learning”, and for recognition “that qualifications are not relevant learning objectives for all children and young people, and those children and young people are not failures because of that”.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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