Schools placing children they cannot cope with on part-time timetables; specialist teachers for children with additional support needs (ASN) not being replaced; education psychologist numbers hitting crisis point; the system for assessing pupils’ special needs being declared “no longer fit for purpose”; and councils avoiding creating legally binding plans that guarantee children with special needs the support they require. These were some of the litany of issues raised at an ASN conference in Edinburgh last week.
Here we take a closer look at the concerns voiced during the event, entitled “Next steps for Additional Support for Learning provision: access, funding and improving outcomes” and hosted by Scotland Policy Conferences.
What were the main messages from the ASN conference?
When inclusion expert Professor Sheila Riddell said that the current system for assessing children’s ASN was “no longer fit for purpose”, she was greeted with a round of applause. Riddell, who is based at the University of Edinburgh, said that assessment is an area of “massive confusion”. Parents do not know who to go to for an assessment or what counts as an assessment. She contrasted the situation in Scotland with the system in England, where families can often download a standard letter requesting an assessment from their council website.
But what about this year’s announcement that Scottish pupils now have the most rights in Europe when it comes to their entitlement to ask for support in school?
Speaking to Tes Scotland, Riddell dismisses the new rights for 12- to 15-year-olds as “paper rights”. She points out that older teenagers have long had the right to appeal to the ASN tribunal, but none have ever done so. If grown-ups and professionals struggle to navigate the present system, she says, “how are children going to understand it?”
Who said that children were being placed on part-time timetables?
Susan McKellar, of Parent Network Scotland, says parents feel that they are not listened to and are being dismissed when it comes to concerns about the support their children are receiving in school. She says that they are asking for support and being told that their child does not need it, but sometimes schools place children on part-time timetables because they cannot cope.
But aren’t children with ASN legally entitled to support?
The plans that place support on a legal footing are called coordinated support plans (CSPs). Riddell’s figures show that the number of CSPs has been falling at the same time as the number of children with an identified ASN has been growing. So in 2010, 10.4 per cent of the school population had an ASN, rising to 24.9 per cent in 2016. However, over the same period, the number of CSPs fell by around 30 per cent, from 3,458 to 2,385.
Are there any other concerning figures?
Yes. Pupils living in the most-deprived neighbourhoods are more than twice as likely to be identified as having an ASN, yet CSPs are more than twice as likely to be opened for pupils with ASN living in the least-deprived neighbourhoods. Riddell’s other concern is that children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties – who make up the largest group of children with ASN – are “particularly unlikely” to have a CSP.
Why is the number of children with a coordinated support plan falling?
May Dunsmuir, president of the Additional Support Needs Tribunal, argues that councils are shying away from introducing CSPs because they are legally binding. “I have a suspicion that the decline of the CSP in Scotland is largely because it places statutory duties on education authorities to review and to ensure that the provisions are met,” she says.
Who raised concerns about specialist teacher numbers falling?
RNIB Scotland. It says specialist teachers of hearing-impaired and visually-impaired pupils are not being replaced, and is calling on the government to offer teachers an incentive to do the four-year training required.
What do councils say?
A spokesman for local authorities’ body Cosla would say only this: “Local authorities take a child-centred approach, in line with Girfec [the national Getting it Right for Every Child policy], and work with partner agencies to put in place the support that children and their families need. Tackling the poverty-related attainment gap is a key area of focus for local authorities, and they will continue to work with partners to improve outcomes.”