Special needs Act delayed to avoid clash with new curriculum
Ministers have put their special needs legislation on hold while schools grapple with the implementation of the new curriculum.
It is yet another sign of the high stakes in making a success of Curriculum for Excellence that the Government is prepared to do whatever it takes. This latest move follows the suspension of school inspections next term to allow HMIE to work on the curriculum with struggling schools.
The new Additional Support for Learning (Scotland) Act 2009 had been due to come into force on August 16, and this has now been postponed until November 14.
The ASL Act extends benefits to parents, including the right to request that their children be educated in another local authority, increasing their access to mediation and tribunals and ensuring that schools bring their provision into line with the principles of the reformed curriculum.
The Government says that the ASL implementation group, on which parents are represented as well as the local authorities and unions, had become concerned that schools would have to concentrate so much on getting Curriculum for Excellence right that they would not be able to put their energies into learning support.
Education Secretary Michael Russell commented: "Ministers have listened to the concerns put forward by the group that commencement in August may have meant that important changes around additional support for children and young people might be lost."
The local authorities have also been concerned that the new Act will impose pressures on council budgets that they will be unable to meet.
Already, some councils have actually cut back: Highland has reduced its ASL funding by pound;420,000 over two years, prompting concerns that schools do not have the staffing to meet the needs of some pupils in mainstream schools.
The delay in enforcing the legislation on learning support is also therefore intended to give councils more time to develop information, training and support for schools and parents.
Mr Russell said the postponement was based on "the clear understanding that local authorities use this extra time to deliver that extra training and support". He has written to the authorities asking them to confirm what plans they have in place to do so.
Councils fear that parts of the legislation will create such demands from parents that costs will soar. Among the provisions are an extension of the rights of parents to request a specific assessment, either educational, psychological or medical, "at any time". Education authorities will only be able to turn down such a request if it is "unreasonable". They must, however, take into account the results of the assessment which may point to a requirement for additional support.
The Act also puts authorities under an obligation to treat children in care as having additional learning needs. But this "default position" means that, once such pupils are examined, an authority could decide they can manage perfectly well in mainstream classes without extra support.
Another pressure on the authorities will come from the right of anybody to report to education officials cases of disabled pre-school children under the age of three who are believed to need additional support. At present, only health boards are allowed to report such youngsters.