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Empowering Teachers, Parents and Communities to achieve Excellence and Equity in Education: An analysis of consultation responses

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Chapter 10: Additional Support Needs

Key points

There was a general consensus that ASN should remain at a higher level of governance than the individual school.

If ASN provision were to be shifted to individual schools, respondents stated that specific challenges would need to be met in relation to: budget; staffing; collaboration; skills proliferation and resourcing. There was a particular concern regarding the loss of the "economy of scale" that current arrangements provide.

In relation to ASN, respondents overall felt that the current education system would benefit from greater resourcing and joined-up working under current governance arrangements, rather than a change in responsibilities to individual schools.

The consultation document did not ask respondents directly about ASN or the implications a governance change may have on the ASN sector. Nonetheless, this was a recurrent theme that was raised by many respondents throughout the range of questions, with almost a third of individuals mentioning this topic. Concerns with the implementation of suggested changes typically revolved around access to the necessary support and services required for full participation in the education system. Individuals felt overwhelmingly negative about current arrangements, as well as the likely repercussions of proposed changes to governance.

Organisations and individuals highlighted that ASN brings with it a collection of unique challenges that any changes to school governance would need to adequately met. The issues revolved around:

  • Budgetary considerations: i.e. that providing ASN support was costly and affected different schools in different ways (e.g. small vs. large schools, urban vs. rural);
  • Staffing considerations: ASN requires access to staff trained in both general practice and in particular niche subjects, specifically in supporting those with more severe forms of ASN;
  • A need for collaboration: Organisations noted that ASN requires a multi-agency collaborative approach. This collaboration was both between bodies, as well as between parents and the school. For individuals, it was not general collaboration desired so much as a specific need for better engagement with health professionals. Several individuals mentioned a need for a "clear interface" between schools and the health sector, such as with CAMH[2] professionals and educational psychologists. The main reason behind this was the recognition of a growing mental health crisis. There was a suggestion that greater emphasis might be placed on the social and emotional needs of children within the umbrella of ASN;
  • Parental knowledge/involvement: That certain types of service required parental buy-in, as head teachers/local authorities require the parents to apply for particular types of interventions/programs. Any changes to school governance would require schools to be able to provide the parents with the necessary support and education to allow them to make informed decisions;
  • Lack of resources: Many respondents felt that current ASN provision was under-resourced, and that changes to school governance would only exacerbate the situation.

Issues with proposed governance changes

The consensus amongst all respondents was negative towards the idea of shifting ASN provision from local authorities to individual schools. Indeed, it was one of the most often cited arguments against the proposed governance changes.

Respondents felt individual schools were currently ill-equipped to tackle the challenges highlighted above, and that to move responsibilities away from local authorities to individual schools would only serve to worsen access to provision and general quality of services. Amongst individuals there was, in fact, an appetite for greater centralisation of ASN provision to ensure coherence and consistency. Individuals, in particular, stated that the present structure was too loose and "vague" and that ASN provision would benefit from clear, national direction.

The main issues raised were:

  • Lack of adequate training amongst staff/headteachers. Respondents felt that teacher training would need to dramatically change in order to adequately tackle responsibility for ASN;
  • Lack of knowledge: That individual teachers/schools/parents do not have the adequate knowledge around all the specific challenges necessary to make the correct appraisals. That it would create too much variability between schools, as judgments (e.g. for referrals, type of support etc.) would be greatly influenced by the individual head teachers;
  • Increase in workload for individual schools;
  • Lack of value for money: Many organisations felt that "economies of scale" would be lost, which was one of the main benefits of local authority level provision;
  • Difficulty in accessing necessary services. There was concern that individual schools would not have equal access to necessary services (e.g. educational psychologists), which may create discrepancies across schools;
  • Funding: Lack of funding was one of the most recurrent themes throughout the consultation, but particularly with regard to ASN. There was felt to be a "postcode lottery of provision", with stringent criteria leaving many undiagnosed students without any funding at all. There was a clear desire from both organisations and individuals for ring-fenced and protected funding to alleviate this issue, targeted specifically at those schools with greatest ASN, regardless of the deprivation level of the area. It was speculated that even greater resources than currently available would be required if schools were to be individually responsible;
  • Lack of evidence to support benefits of devolved responsibility: some organisations stated that devolving responsibility to individual schools in England had led to a fall in standards and a decrease in service;
  • Schools should focus on teaching: Some organisations and individuals complained about the high expectations placed on teachers to be 'jacks of all trades'. This point echoes sentiments expressed elsewhere in the review that schools are already overloaded, and that increase in the diversity in their area of responsibility further moves them away from their primary focus on teaching and education; and
  • Mainstreaming: Many individuals who commented on ASN mentioned this issue specifically. There was general agreement with the principle of inclusion and the presumption of mainstreaming. However, whilst agreeing in principle, most individuals who commented on mainstreaming thought this was not working in practice. Lack of resources was cited as one of the main barriers to successful inclusion, with an overarching message that mainstreaming could only work if the issues of lack of funding, staff and resources were all resolved. Individuals believed that mainstreaming was an unrealistic ambition, and that in the current circumstances was proving detrimental for teachers and students alike. A similar opinion emerged in terms of the GIRFEC principles.

Support

Although, overall, respondents were against the suggestion of devolving responsibility for ASN to individual schools, a few organisations and individuals were open to the idea of having clusters of schools take responsibility for ASN provision, as it would still allow for access to the necessary support staff and still provide some "economy of scale". However, the overall sentiment was that governance arrangements should not be changed, and instead current support systems would benefit from greater resourcing. Many individuals asked for there to be specialist support in every classroom, with one to one support from pupil support assistants, where required. Earlier intervention was wanted, as was earlier diagnosis of conditions, with fewer "hoops" to jump through. Both autism and dyslexia were mentioned by individuals as requiring specific, targeted training for support staff.