Pupils with additional support needs should be seen as assets to a school first rather than as a barrier to be overcome, MSPs have been told.
Too often children with ASN are viewed through the idea of "deficit", said Eileen Prior, executive director of national parents' organisation Connect.
Ms Prior, who was addressing the Scottish Parliament's Education and Skills Committee today, said: "It is an attitude within the system, within schools, within local authorities, which has to change."
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Ms Prior said: "If we constantly look at [ASN] as a deficit, as a problem, then our mindset is that we have to 'deal with' these children, that we have this hurdle to overcome."
Yet Angela Morgan, the author of the independent review into additional support for learning (ASL) published in 2020, made it "absolutely clear that, actually, if we reset our approach, so that we are welcoming the...skills and attributes of both the young people and their families...into our schools, then that might [help] move things forward".
Parents of ASN pupils 'feel their knowledge is ignored'
Ms Prior added that the ASL review made it "crystal clear" that parents feel their desire to contribute to their child's education is "constantly rebuffed" and is "actually unwelcome".
She said that debates around ASN education often focused exclusively on a lack of resources, but that this has always been an issue and should not distract from parents: they know their children better than anyone else but too often feel that "their contribution and their knowledge is ignored".
Because LAs have different means of categorising ASN it is difficult to track how LAs are addressing different needs. This makes comparisons of provision and support incredibly difficult due to the disparity in recording the needs of pupils. @SP_EduSkills— EIS (@EISUnion) January 20, 2021
Ms Prior added that the Covid-19 pandemic had "thrown up some horrific stories from families", where pupils had become profoundly distressed about being away from school but there was no reliable channel of communication set up for families.
"If it's been difficult for us as adults to deal with Covid – just think how it is for some young people," she said.
Ms Prior also said: "Many of the children and young people we are talking about have great assets and great gifts, but we are not really focusing on those.
"We are focusing on how they are an issue, on how they are a problem for teachers, and on how they are a cost, frankly, within local authorities.
"They are seen as a drag on academic attainment. As long as those attitudes pertain, we will not make any progress."
To be a parent of a child with additional support needs is to "feel like a washing machine", said Cheryl Burnett, co-vice chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland.
She told MSPs that parents of ASN pupils often faced the same battles at the start of each school year, so it felt like "rinse and repeat".