Special needs plan launched but no new money announced

The Scottish government is told that its action plan is welcome - but vital funding is ‘fundamentally lacking’

Emma Seith

ASN support: The Scottish government has announced a new special needs plan – but with no extra funding

The Scottish government has accepted that teachers and support assistants need more training in order to cope with the range of additional support needs in classrooms, saying that half of early career teachers had identified "education for all" as their key professional learning need.

The government has also committed to publicly celebrating the achievements of children with additional support needs (ASNs) after an independent review published earlier this year highlighted that the current focus on attainment and exam results “devalues and demoralises” pupils who achieve in other ways.

The review: Government accused of ‘sneaking out’ ASN review

Background: Swinney under fire over special needs funding

Related: Teachers 'must challenge inclusion on the cheap’

In an action plan published this morning, the Scottish government accepted the majority of the recommendations made by the independent review of additional support for learning (ASL) carried out by Angela Morgan.

Improving support for ASN pupils

However, no new funding has been announced to deliver the action plan, despite the review finding that “significant pressure on resources” was “clearly the most powerful driver in shaping the current reality of implementation”.

Responding to the action plan, the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition, which campaigns to improve the lives of vulnerable children and young people, said there was much in the plan to be commended, but added: “However, what is fundamentally lacking is the vital resourcing needed to support the needs of those with ASN. While this number make up over 30 per cent of the pupil population, a number that has risen by just under a third since 2012, there has been a per head cut in spending of just under £1,000 for these pupils. This amounts to a more than 30 per cent cut in real terms.

“If we are to give those children and young people with ASN the best possible start in life, to truly value them, this means they get the support they need and that means putting our money where our mouth is as a society.” 

The government also refused to commit to creating a new teaching qualification in ASN for initial teacher education or to include “an additional strand for ASL” in the new promotion pathway for teachers.

The action plan said it would be up to schools and councils “to develop these new lead teacher posts”, adding that the new pathway – which is still expected to be introduced to schools in August next year despite delays to development caused by the coronavirus pandemic – had been designed to "allow this type of flexibility”. 

When it came to a new ASN teaching qualification, the government said it would be for the General Teaching Council for Scotland and the Scottish Council of Deans of Education to decide. However, it added: “The Scottish government will explore with GTCS and SCDE the viability of a new qualification. Initial discussions have taken place between GTCS and SCDE.” 

Progress against all measures will be reported on by October 2021, said the plan.

Launching the action plan, education secretary John Swinney said the Scottish government was “determined to improve the educational experiences of children and young people with additional support needs”

He said: “We must ensure children and young people and their families are listened to and involved in decisions around ASL that directly affect them. Our joint action plan with Cosla [the local authorities' umbrella organisation] will ensure teachers and school staff are given the support they need to enable our children and young people to reach their full potential.”

The 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.

It found 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 said that 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”.

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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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