Need for resolve to get it right for every child

18th January 2013 at 00:00

It's one of those heartbreaking stories where parents know there's something wrong with their child and need to fight the system to get help. It may be physical or learning difficulties. Sometimes they don't know what the problem is; other times they just don't know who to turn to.

How much help is on hand varies according to which school or local authority it is; it may even come down to the knowledge of a single teacher. One thing is certain: provision of information, support and resources is patchy.

Whether a child's needs are severe and complex or less acute, the message is the same in two reports covered in this week's TESS: there is a lack of national strategic thinking and follow-through.

The first, a report from the charities Enable and For Scotland's Disabled Children, on the availability of information for parents of children with additional support needs and on training for teachers, affects more children (page 5). Despite legislation in the 2009 Additional Support for Learning Act, stipulating that schools and local authorities must inform parents about agencies and contacts for special needs, it finds the message is not always getting through.

The second report, by Peter Doran, on provision for children with complex needs, is more damning (News Focus, pages 12-15). Seven national schools for special needs - from visual or hearing impairment to social, emotional and behavioural difficulties - receive direct government funding. All are located in the central belt and some are half-empty. Meanwhile, local authorities, independent providers and the grant-aided schools are vying for resources.

Worse still, the training of teachers to support these needy children is heading for a crisis, with more than 60 per cent of them aged 45 or above. And the universities that trained them no longer have the capacity to do so, as their staffing has been cut and their capacity for doing vital research is diminishing.

What the Doran report calls for - and the government is attempting to put in place - is a fairer national "strategic commissioning process" which looks at the needs that require to be met, rather than services that have sprung up randomly, and tailors provision accordingly.

Perth and Kinross Council is praised in the case of Alan Archibald, a young boy struck by a severe neurological condition. With the remarkable support and flexibility of his parents and health and local authorities, Alan improved and is now attending university with five first-class Highers under his belt.

Caring for Alan meant changing their lives to fit him, said his parents, and the local authority to an extent did the same thing. That surely is what the national policy on Getting it Right for Every Child and in Curriculum for Excellence is about. Achieving it will require radical and determined implementation.

gillian.macdonald@tess.co.uk.

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