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Pupils need a greater say in disputes over schooling, say experts

Children and young people should have a far greater say in disputes over their educational needs, according to a leading Scottish think tank.

The Centre for Research in Education Inclusion and Diversity says action is needed to ensure that pupils have a real voice when parents are arguing with schools or councils over their education.

This is vital for pupils with additional support needs, such as dyslexia, where communication is more challenging, experts said.

Professor Sheila Riddell, director of CREID at the University of Edinburgh, told TESS: "A lot more work needs to be done. Often children are not involved, or not meaningfully involved, even though the mood and present situation is that they should be.

"Mediation is entirely voluntary, but the suggestion for good practice is that, if at all possible, children should be involved in some way."

The view is based on a combination of CREID's research and discussions based on their findings, involving professionals, parents and young people.

Other issues raised at the latest CREID seminar on educational disputes last Thursday included how to overcome children's difficulties in expressing themselves.

Experts suggested that teachers needed more training in techniques to help children with impaired speech communication.

Feedback from the event is being used to prepare new guidelines for parents, which are due to be unveiled at the Scottish Parliament in May.

`NO ONE GAVE ME ANY OPTIONS'

"They said they were willing to listen to me but it was always, `What do you want us to do?' - which was pointless because I didn't know what they were allowed to do.

"They did not give me any options. They didn't say, `For example'; they expected me to give them the solution. They were worse than useless."

Today Scott Masson is well able to articulate his view of the way his former school handled the mediation process in his case.

But as a teenager striving to cope with dyslexia and ADHD at an Aberdeen secondary, he found it extremely hard to voice his concerns and ideas.

His family says the school also repeatedly refused to engage in the process, so teachers continued to exclude Scott from classes. As a result, he missed years of schooling and exams which he is still fighting to catch up with now, aged 20.

Scott spoke out about his experiences at an event held by the Centre for Research in Education Inclusion and Diversity in a bid to ensure that today's children and young people are properly represented and supported in disputes.

As well as being offered clear choices, he believes pupils involved in mediation should be given the option to have someone close to them speak on their behalf.

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