Additional Support For Learning

Mike Gibson, Head of Support for Learning Division, Scottish Executive Education Department, explains the background to the Additional Support for Learning Act…

We have been consulting on the legislation since 2001. One of the reasons for that was that it had become clear over the years that the current system was not working well. Most people will know that the current system is based on the Record of Needs. We had a number of problems with this system.

For example, the variation in recording rates across authorities; there is a fivefold difference in recording rates between the lowest recording authority and the highest recording authority. I think also that the Record of Needs was not serving some pupils very well. It certainly wasn’t serving youngsters who had social, emotional and behavioural difficulties and it was quite clear that some authorities felt reluctant to open records for these pupils.

These were two major reasons but as time has gone on and the planning mechanisms in place in schools have improved it became quite clear that the Record of Needs was a very static document. For example, it didn’t say anything about what youngsters were expected to learn and yet it was supposed to be planning children’s learning.

So it didn’t sit well with Individualised Education Programmes (IEPs) or Personal Learning Planning (PLP). It was a very flat document. It didn’t take account of children and young people’s views and yet that was something that was very clear from the 1995 Act and the 2000 Act. Account had to be taken of children’s views in decisions that affect them. So, it was felt that the Record of Needs as it stood was well past its sell by date and that it was time to look at the whole system.

We know that only about two per cent of the school population have Records of Needs and that if you have a Record of Needs you are entitled to, for example, regular reviews and future needs assessments. It became clear that there were lots of children without Records of Needs who would actually benefit from these provisions so that was an important issue that we had to take account of.

I think that also what was wrong with the current system is that there was a lack of parental empowerment. Parents could appeal to Scottish ministers if they disagreed with whether or not their child should have a Record of Needs or if they disagreed with the terms of the Record of Needs but that was about it. That process was quite a cumbersome one.

So, what we are saying is two things: the Record of Needs system as it is now doesn’t serve those with Records of Needs particularly well and also the current system doesn’t serve those without Records of Needs so I think that people felt we needed to have a close look at the whole system.
The final point I’ll make is that, as well as the 2000 Act, there has been other legislation which has been enacted since 1983; the Children in Scotland Act 1995, the Standards in Scotland’s Schools Act 2000, the Disability Discrimination Act with its application to education, and the Accessibilities Strategies Act. So there is now quite a raft of legislation in place that I think we need to keep account of in framing new legislation and that is something that the Additional Support for Learning Act does consider.

What Does The Act Do?

Among the things we have done through this legislation is introduce the concept of ‘additional support needs’. The purpose behind that is to acknowledge that there are lots of youngsters in our schools who require additional support but they don’t necessarily have special educational needs in the way that these needs are defined in the current legislation.

So it was felt that the term ‘ special educational needs’ was too narrow. It didn’t encompass the full range of youngsters who, for whatever reason, require additional support and I think also that people were beginning to realise that the term was a bit pejorative and that speaking about additional support was a better way to express what these youngsters required.

Another important issue was to make sure that parents were empowered. This legislation introduces mediation, dispute resolution, and for issues relating to Coordinated Support Plans (CSPs) it has Additional Support Needs tribunals. So I think we have addressed the issue of empowering parents.
One of the important features of the new legislation is the account it takes of children’s and young people’s views. In the past legislation used terms such as ‘have regard to the views of children and young people in decisions that affect them’. This legislation goes beyond that because it really requires authorities to seek and take account of the views of children and young people.

So it is not a question of just sitting back and waiting for someone to express a view about something. The authorities and the schools actually have a responsibility to seek out the views and take account of these. We have also ensured that multi-agency working is taken account of because again one of the issues that we have with the current system is that it doesn’t really address properly multi-agency working. The new legislation places duties on agencies outwith education to help the education authority in fulfilling its functions under the Act. These are extremely important changes.

One final thing that the Act does (and I’ll mention this with regard to certain children under the age of 3). Currently education authorities have a power to make provision for children under the age of 2 with pronounced, specific or complex special educational needs but it is a power only. What the new legislation does is to place a duty on education authorities to make provision for certain children under the age of 3 referred to as having a disability by health boards. So that is an important extension of the legislation.

Challenges and Opportunities

First of all, undoubtedly, there is the issue of multi-agency working. I think that just about every report that has come out that looks at services for children over the last five or six years has stressed the importance of multi-agency working. Whether it is looking at children’s hearing systems, child protection issues and in this case provision for additional support needs, they have all recognised that there is no one agency that can make the full provision that children require.

Certainly, as far as education is concerned, education can’t, as far as additional support needs are concerned, do the job by itself. It does need the support of other agencies such as health, social work services, the voluntary agencies, as well as other agencies like careers, and further and higher education. So I think that one of the major challenges and opportunities is to make sure that we really have effective multi-agency working and because there are now statutory duties on other appropriate agencies I think we have a good chance of improving things.

I think the other challenge and opportunity is to reassure parents that they don’t need to have a Coordinated Support Plan (CSP) for their child for the provision for their child to be very effective, for them to be reassured that their child is getting everything they need. The Act raises a specific duty on education authorities to make adequate and efficient provision for each child with additional support needs. That is extremely important. There is a focus on individual children and the corollary of that is that an authority can be held in breach of that duty with regard to individual children. So parents whose children don’t have Coordinated Support Plans should feel reassured that authorities still have duties to ensure that the provision for their child is adequate and efficient.

Another challenge and opportunity, for authorities and parents, is to get effective partnership working. We have mediation services and we have dispute resolution and I’ve already mentioned Additional Support Needs tribunals so I think there are plenty of opportunities there to ensure that authorities and parents can work effectively together and again so that parents feel reassured that if they have got a concern that they can raise it with their authority.

Another point I’ll make is that we have a Code of Practice that gives professionals, voluntary agencies and all those who are delivering services to children under the Act guidance and advice about what it is that they ought to be doing. We have said that there will be opportunities to revise that Code of Practice.

In a sense what we are doing is writing that Code of Practice in some cases for practice that we haven’t been able to observe and that always carries with it an element of risk; the risk that aspects of the advice won’t be up to the mark. So ministers are committed to reviewing the Code of Practice and monitoring the implementation of the Act.

People should feel reassured that the Code of Practice and the regulations which back up the primary legislation are not set in tablets of stone. These can be revisited and adjusted in the light of our experience of practice.

‘Background, Challenges and Opportunities’ is part of the Supporting Children’s Learning training resource DVD to support the Code of Practice. Two copies of the training resource have been sent to all schools and several copies have gone to local authorities, NHS Boards and a range of voluntary organisations. If you would like a copy, please contact the Scottish Executive Education Department, Support for Learning Division, Victoria Quay, Edinburgh EH6 6QQ Tel: 0131
244 7139.