Laudable start to ASL Act

10th October 2008 at 01:00

Children with additional support needs are far more likely to get the help they need in special schools than in mainstream education

Secondary schools in particular have struggled with growing demands on them: only two in five parents with special needs children find it easy to get the right support.

The findings emerge in the first large-scale independent survey to look in detail at how well children and their parents believe the 2004 Additional Support for Learning Act has been implemented. North Ayrshire Council commissioned the charity Children in Scotland to canvass families' views, and the results are published today.

Based on 1,268 responses, the study found that overall satisfaction was higher than expected, and the council had made a "laudable start" putting the Act into practice. Three-quarters of pupils said adults working with them at school listened and tried to help, and a similar proportion of parents were "happy" or "very happy" with the help available.

Parents with children in special schools, however, were much more satisfied with the support on offer than those of children in mainstream schools. Of the 370 parents who participated, 86 declaring themselves "unhappy" or "very unhappy" predominantly had children in mainstream schools.

When asked how easy it was to get the right help, 75 per cent of special school parents said it was "easy" or "very easy", compared to only 55 per cent at primary schools and 39 per cent at secondaries. A marked difference also emerged when quizzed on whether their children's voices were heard and respected. "Yet again, special school parents were most positive, and secondary school parents least so."

Allan Cowieson, North Ayrshire's additional support for learning quality improvement officer, said schools had to deal with parents' concerns from the start: "The overwhelming message from unhappy parents is that their mistrust comes from years of trying to be taken seriously."

The report concluded that the "lack of effective communication appears to lie at the heart of the overwhelming majority of concerns".

This reinforces the findings of HMIE that a lack of consultation with families is a common weakness in implementing the Act.

- Children's Minister Adam Ingram has announced moves to strengthen the rights of children with additional support needs and their parents, through amendments to the Additional Support for Learning Act.

CHILDREN'S VIEWS

- "If I fall out with someone, nobody helps me" (age 10)

- "I'd like to be able to go to the toilet without being timed" (age 11)

- "I'd like more classes with less people as that way the teacher can focus their attention on you better" (age 14)

- "We always get told when we do something wrong - how about telling us when we get it right?" (age 16)

PARENTS' VIEWS

- "School says that Andrew responds well to one-to-one support, but they consistently refuse to put it in place."

- "We didn't recognise our child in the (educational psychologist's) report."

- "Rebecca has blossomed like a flower since attending this (special) school."

- "Every year I feel we go back to square one at the beginning of term.

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