Additional support for learning: experiences of pupils and those that support them
Findings from qualitative research.
About this research
This qualitative research explored the experiences of children and young people of additional support for learning, and the experiences of those who support them.
The research took place in 18 schools in six local authority areas across Scotland, in 2018. The schools were a mix of:
- primary and secondary schools;
- types of school - including mainstream schools (with and without additional support needs bases or enhanced support) and special schools; and
- varied geographies and levels of deprivation.
It involved 100 face to face interviews with pupils ranging from P2 to S6. It also involved 54 school staff members (leadership teams, class teachers and support workers) and 39 parents.
The research was qualitative. Qualitative research is particularly useful in exploring complex areas, providing an in-depth understanding of particular experiences, views, choices and behaviours. However, it is important to note that while this report gives an in-depth understanding of the perspectives of those who were involved in the research, its findings cannot be extrapolated to the wider population.
Additional support for learning provision
All local authority officers involved in the research said their authority had a clear ethos around meeting the needs of children with additional support needs (ASN), which was in line with the presumption of mainstreaming.
Overall, most local authority officers felt that the balance of additional support for learning provision was improving in their area, becoming more flexible and individualised. However, most felt that there was still more to do to improve the balance of provision, including developing the resources available in mainstream schools in terms of money, staff and facilities, and being able to recruit skilled teachers and support staff. In some areas, there was a clear feeling from local authority officers and school staff that there were not enough resources to meet needs - particularly in mainstream schools.
School experiences of children and young people
Many pupils at mainstream primary schools liked their friends and teachers. A few said they liked everything and would not change anything.
Many secondary school pupils said that they liked the range of subjects and the support they received at school. However, some secondary school pupils said they did not like anything about their school at all. Some said they hated school and did not want to be there, and some said they did not like their teachers.
Pupils at special schools said they liked playing outside, learning life skills, and topics such as sport, music and art. Many said that there was nothing they did not like, and their dislikes were very diverse and included noise, school work, friends, safety and not being allowed to be independent.
Pupils at mainstream and special schools, generally felt positive about their experience, and were positive across SHANARRI indicators. However:
- In terms of safety, some mainstream school pupils said that they felt - or had previously felt - very unsafe due to bullying. Half of all secondary school girls involved in the research had experienced bullying, with two moving schools due to bullying. A few pupils at special schools said that pupils were violent or aggressive towards them and wanted more help with feeling safe.
- In terms of achieving, a few pupils at mainstream schools felt they could achieve better in small group or ASN base activity, rather than in the whole class. A few pupils at special schools said they were covering work they had already done, and were ready to be more challenged.
- In terms of inclusion, most pupils at mainstream schools felt they had lots of friends and that it was easy to make friends, and they were included in the life of the school. However, a few pupils in ASN bases in mainstream schools said they did not always feel involved in the life of the school beyond the base. Around half of pupils at special schools said they had lots of friends, but some (at two schools in particular) found it quite hard to make friends.
Overall, almost all pupils at mainstream schools and special schools felt their needs were well met.
A few primary pupils said that they wanted more help, and a few didn't like going out of the class to get support as they felt they missed things. Secondary pupils often enjoyed going to a targeted support session, and enjoyed the quiet space. However, two secondary pupils felt they did not get the help they needed.
Parental views on school experiences
Parents and carers were broadly positive about their child's experience of school across all of the SHANARRI indicators. Overall, most parents felt that their child's school was doing well in terms of meeting the needs of their child. Parents and carers valued when communication with the school was good; enhanced support was available; and their children were comfortable at the school.
Most parents of children at mainstream schools had something they would like to improve about the school - including some concerns about resources, staff and buildings and high staff turnover. A few secondary school parents had concerns about the busy school environment, the challenges ensuring all teachers had the information they needed about their child, and ongoing concerns about bullying.
Parents with children at special schools liked the small size of the school and classes, the good ratio of adults to children and the access to physical space both indoors and outdoors. While a few felt their child was achieving more than at mainstream school, a few had concerns about academic challenge. A few on split placements felt that their child's needs were better met in the special school than the mainstream school.
Almost all parents were very positive about the relationship and level of communication with teachers and support staff at their child's school. However, a few felt that they had to push to improve communication.
For many parents it had taken a long time to get their child to the right environment. The challenges included a lack of understanding from staff in mainstream schools; experiences of bullying; long assessment and diagnosis periods; having to push for extra support or spaces at special schools or ASN units; and being moved between schools with little notice.
Involving young people and families in decision making
Pupils at primary mainstream schools and special schools generally felt well listened to by teachers, and gave examples of being able to learn in a way that suited them.
While most pupils at mainstream secondary school did feel listened to, a few did not. A few felt that teachers didn't make the adjustments they needed.
Almost all parents felt that they were involved in decision making relating to their child's education. However, some did not feel involved in choices about which school their child went to, or what support their child received at school.
Almost all school staff felt that children were able to express their views and have these heard at school. Involvement was felt to work best if it was ongoing and genuine, with flexibility in engaging young people and parents, and meeting their needs.
Meeting the needs of children and young people
Local authority officers and school staff highlighted similar themes in relation to meeting the needs of children and young people with ASN. Overall, most local authority officers and school staff felt that they were meeting the needs of children with ASN reasonably and that most children would be having a positive and inclusive experience. However, most highlighted that this was in the context of having very limited resources. Almost all felt there was room for improvement.
Many said that the number, range and complexity of needs of children with ASN were increasing at a time when teachers, support workers, senior leadership and central support within the local authority were under pressure or decreasing in number. Some felt experiences could be very mixed dependent on the school. Some felt there may be gaps around meeting the needs of children with social, emotional and behavioural needs and autism.
Teachers highlighted particular challenges around balancing their time between the whole class and the pupils in need of individual support. A few teachers felt that the inclusion of children with ASN, particularly behavioural needs, was having a negative impact on learning within mainstream classes. This was a particular concern when some felt there was pressure to ensure all children were improving their attainment.
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