Too much `policy speak'

18th January 2013 at 00:00
Research by two charities suggests local authorities are failing in a legal duty

Two of Scotland's largest charities for children with learning disabilities have published research suggesting a number of local authorities are failing to meet their legal duty to provide information to parents under the Additional Support for Learning Act.

Where information booklets were provided, they were often written in inaccessible language or "policy speak".

Enable Scotland and For Scotland's Disabled Children (fSDC) also found deficiencies in staff training in additional support needs and warned that the current trend of delivering more continuing professional development online was likely to exacerbate the situation.

"The only way to ensure that teachers are equipped to support all pupils in an inclusive classroom is to provide CPD on ASL on a mandatory basis," said Linda Whitmore, Enable Scotland's development officer for children and young people.

She told TESS that because of a "huge gap" between policy and actual practice on the ground, parents were becoming disillusioned with the concept of mainstreaming and inclusion and moving their children out of mainstream schooling into a more specialised environment.

The findings were based on two Freedom of Information requests seeking to establish the extent to which local authorities had implemented the 2009 amendments to the ASL Act; all 32 authorities responded. The charities' report, Making the Grade?, makes clear their findings are based on a "snapshot" dating back to November 2011.

Ms Whitmore, however, said that her organisation continued to be approached by parents who felt their child had been let down by the system. "This indicates that the situation has not improved since we carried out our FOIs," she said.

Under the legislation, authorities are required to deliver staff training on the obligations and processes of the ASL act - not on skills or awareness training on how to deliver support to children and young people.

Enable Scotland is campaigning for all teachers to receive mandatory training in the following areas: general topics of additional support needs, inclusion and equalities; and specific topics of positive behaviour support, communication strategies and learning disabilityautistic spectrum disorder awareness.

But John Butcher, chair of the ASL sub-group for the education directors' organisation ADES, said that although it supported general awareness- raising through initial teacher education and CPD, it would be "impossible and not necessary" to train teachers in all the skills to cover the vast range of additional support needs.

The survey also sought to find out whether councils provided the relevant information in Easy Read format - a method for writing information in clear and simple English with graphics and symbols for people with learning disabilities or limited literacy skills - but found widespread confusion.

Some authorities equated Easy Read with "plain English" or referred to enlarged text, Read Out Loud, Braille or even ethnic minority languages. The report added: "It was notable that the right to an assessment under the 2009 Act was not mentioned in any response."

It also expressed concern that little reference was made to sending information to early years establishments, particularly given the importance of early identification and intervention.

A Scottish government spokesman said: "Local authorities have a range of duties under the Additional Support for Learning Act and it is their responsibility to fulfil these duties in light of their own priorities and circumstances. This includes raising awareness of the services and support available locally and providing information to parents on the support available for their children."

KEY INFORMATION

- A quarter of councils provided information to parents and carers themselves;

- two-thirds made the information available via schools or other means;

- just over half provided information to parent councilsforums rather than directly to parents;

- 10 authorities made information available indirectly to parent groups;

- only one authority provided information via a school bag drop;

- nearly three-quarters referred to their website as a means of accessing relevant information about the ASL Act, relevant leaflets andor signposting parents to other organisations.

elizabeth.buie@tess.co.uk.

Original headline: Parents of disabled children receive `policy speak', not useful information

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