Code puts child first

9th September 2005 at 01:00
The Scottish Executive has now launched its code of practice to reinforce the Additional Support for Learning Act, which comes into force on November 1.

Making his first official public appearance since his appointment, Robert Brown, Deputy Education Minister, predicted that the Act would come to be seen as "a major landmark which puts Scotland at the forefront of practice in this key area".

In his previous position as convener of the parliamentary education committee, Mr Brown was involved in scrutinising the ASL Bill. He paid tribute to the Scottish Parliament's committee system as "a far cry from the party politicking which many people wrongly imagine to be the norm".

Mr Brown said that Scottish education was becoming increasingly child-focused "in the best sense of that concept" - that the arrangements in place must support the choices and needs of individual children and their families.

"I remember vividly meeting a very personable young lady at the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh during one of the committee's participation events on the Bill," he said. "She had been in mainstream provision previously where she had been bullied. She was much happier and fulfilled at her new school.

"This is not at all a comment on the vexed issue of mainstreaming, but it is a recognition that we must ultimately fit the system to the child and not the child to the system. This is ultimately what the ASL Act is about."

Mr Brown added: "The Act introduces a new concept of additional support needs, and establishes an inclusive framework within which schools can work to meet the learning needs of all children and young people.

"However, behind this dry statement of legislative and policy intent are real children and young people, real families having to cope with difficult circumstances - all with their own human story to tell.

"Often, a single issue such as truancy can mask a range of factors at play in preventing children and young people from engaging with school. It might be a young woman losing two years of schooling as a result of an eating disorder arising from traumatic events at home. Or a boy suffering at the hands of bullies who stops going to school. Or the teenage mum having to cope with her baby while preparing for examinations which will have a vital bearing on her future life chances.

"And we all know of the many difficult cases where parents have felt they had to batter their heads against a brick wall to get their child's condition recognised and appropriate support given."

Passing a new law was the easy bit, Mr Brown said. "Putting in place the administrative arrangements to make it work, breathing life and inspiration into it as it affects people on the ground - that is nine-tenths of the challenge."

He called on local authorities, NHS boards, further and higher education and other agencies to rise to the challenge and review their policies, so as to ensure they have arrangements in place which are flexible enough to meet individual needs.

Mr Brown said the Act extended the options for parents to discuss with authorities how decisions affecting their child's education had been reached.

"We have tried in the code to set out how these new options, such as use of supporters and advocates, mediation and dispute resolution, can fit with existing good practice on working with and involving families," he said.

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