Additional support for learning: experiences of pupils and those that support them

Findings from qualitative research.

2. Additional support for learning provision

Chapter summary

All local authorities involved in the research said their authority had a clear ethos around meeting the needs of children with ASN, which was in line with the presumption of mainstreaming. School staff also said that they worked to these local authority strategies, and a few secondary schools said they had their own strategies around inclusion or ASN.

Overall, local authorities aimed to support children in mainstream school, within their local area, where possible. Although some local authority officers felt that decision making processes around education for children with ASN worked well, some felt there were challenges - including lack of resources and budget constraints. School staff generally felt the decision making process worked reasonably well, but staff in one area felt that the decision making process was unclear and lacked resources.

Overall, most local authority officers felt that the balance of additional support for learning provision in their area was improving, becoming more flexible and focusing on individual pathways. However, most also felt there was still more to do to improve the balance of provision, including developing resources including money, staff and facilities available in mainstream schools; recruiting skilled staff; understanding outcomes; meeting specific needs; and focusing on early intervention.

Staff at special schools felt that their role was changing - with more focus on complex needs, and some focus on transitions back to mainstream. Mainstream school staff often felt that they were seeing more pupils with more complex needs attending the school.

In some areas, there was a clear feeling that there were not enough resources to meet needs - particularly in mainstream schools. Some, both local authority officers and school staff, felt that special schools were often well resourced, but there was a lot of pressure on mainstream schools and a lot of demand for places in enhanced bases.


2.1 This chapter explores findings relating to the nature of education provision for children with ASN in the six local authorities and 18 schools involved in this research. It explores:

  • ethos and approaches to meeting needs;
  • types of provision available;
  • decision making processes;
  • views on the balance of provision across different types; and
  • success factors and challenges around this provision.

2.2 It is worth noting that this research is qualitative. While this chapter gives an in-depth understanding of the experiences, feelings and perspectives of those who were involved in the research, its findings cannot be extrapolated to the wider population.

Ethos and approach to meeting needs

2.3 All of the local authority officers involved in this research said that their local authority had a clear ethos in relation to meeting the needs of children with ASN. All said that it was in line with the presumption of mainstreaming.

"We're in tune with the national ethos of the presumption of mainstreaming."
Educational psychologist

2.4 The key principles underpinning local approaches included resilience, independence, inclusion, wellbeing, children's rights, treating children as individuals, community connections, needs based support, local support and raising attainment. These approaches focused on making sure that meeting ASN was everyone's responsibility.

"We look at the needs of the child first and we make the service meet the needs of the child."
Education officer

"The ethos would be that we work inclusively. We work with people close to their home and community, and that we work collaboratively with rather than on or to people."
Educational psychologist

2.5 Each local authority area confirmed that its approach to meeting the needs of children with ASN was formalised in a plan or strategy. Local authority officers mentioned plans, strategies, briefing papers, frameworks, codes of practice and practice models. In some cases, strategies or plans were produced for meeting particular types of need.


In one area, the local authority was working with mental health colleagues to develop an autism strategy, as this appeared to be an area of growth in need in schools locally.

2.6 Leadership teams within schools were also asked about the ethos that their school worked towards in relation to children with ASN. Most said that they worked towards the wider local authority strategy, and focused on inclusion, nurture, mainstreaming and meeting the needs of the individual child. A few secondary schools pointed to their own school strategies, relating to inclusion or specific types of ASN such as autism.

"Inclusion is our ultimate goal, if appropriate. We always start with mainstreaming and work from this."
Head teacher


In one school, there was a clear focus on nurture across the school. The whole school has received presentations on the approach, and it is regularly revisited. There has been slow cultural change, with a shift towards every teacher taking a nurturing role.

Types of provision available

2.7 Local authorities had different types of additional support for learning provision.

2.8 Local authority officers highlighted that a wide range of needs could be met in mainstream schools - including support with communication, speech and language therapy, English as an Additional Language (EAL), vision support, hearing support, dyslexia services, nurture, access to specialist services, Pupil Support Assistants, Support for Learning staff, guidance staff, outreach staff, and community support workers.

"We want to have the same opportunity of access to mainstream for all young people."
Education officer

"We are always trying to get as close to mainstream as we possibly can."
Educational psychologist


In one area, there was an autism outreach team supporting schools across the area. It supports pupils in mainstream environments, and supports staff through providing advice and guidance.

2.9 Local authorities had different approaches to ASN bases or enhanced provision in mainstream schools. For example:

  • some authorities had enhanced provision centres in some schools which supported pupils with a range of ASN;
  • some authorities had bases within mainstream schools which focused on meeting specific needs from across the authority - such as autism, communication or social, emotional and behavioural needs;
  • some authorities had departments or bases which focused strongly on transitions out of school and into work or further learning; and
  • some authorities had centralised support services for behaviour support and social, emotional and behavioural needs which supported mainstream schools as needed - and in some cases mainstream schools with enhanced bases received additional support from these services.


Two areas had bases within secondary schools which focused on transitions out of school for pupils with ASN. One local authority offered nurture supported college placements, and other programmes linking to work or post school opportunities.

2.10 In some areas, there was a shift from focusing on setting up units and bases specifically for certain types of need, to more general support for a range of children with ASN. This was often linked to a broader shift from expecting children to spend all of their time at that unit, to focusing on a gradual transition back to mainstream by the upper stages of primary school.


In one area, each locality had a primary school with an enhanced base. These bases provide support for pupils in small classes of no more than ten pupils. Pupils also often work one to one with a Pupil Support Assistant (PSA), and their day would be structured into a timetable that suited them. Because these bases are part of a mainstream school, pupils can join in any mainstream activity that is suitable - often activities like PE, shows and art. The aim is to provide smaller, more personalised settings than mainstream provision. These bases have more staff, and staff are trained in meeting ASN.


One rural authority felt it did not have the volume of children with ASN to set up special schools across the authority. In this area, the focus was on support at mainstream schools, and a network of enhanced provision at some primary and secondary schools.

2.11 Most of the local authorities also had special schools specifically for children with ASN. This could include standalone special schools or co-located bases. Most often, these provisions were used for children with relatively complex needs.

2.12 Overall, local authorities aimed to accommodate most pupils within their local provision. Very small numbers of children were referred to schools outwith the local authority area. Where children were referred to other schools outwith the area, this was largely due to social, emotional and behavioural needs and often due to home circumstances. Most local authorities were focusing on bringing these children back to local schools wherever possible.

Decision making processes

Local authority views

2.13 All of the local authorities involved in this research stated that they had a clear, formalised process for taking decisions about how to meet the needs of children with ASN. All used a phased approach using a clear framework for intervention. This was based on taking a holistic approach to meeting the individual needs of the child. Often authorities considered wellbeing, resilience and risk throughout this approach.

2.14 Generally, the phased approach involved:

  • Discussion with the class teacher - Supporting the teacher to adapt their approach, try different methods, often with support from educational psychology or other services.
  • Assessment and planning processes - Involving a wide range of partners, and often resulting in the development of a formal plan such as a Child's Plan, Individualised Education Programme or other locally developed planning framework.
  • Consideration of needs at local and/ or city wide forum - In some areas, cases were referred to local partnerships at a locality level for discussion, and in some there was a central forum, inclusion group or admissions group which considered additional support provision. Some areas had both.

2.15 There was a strong focus on partnership, and involving the whole team around the child. The range of partners involved in the decision making process across the authorities included children, parents and guardians; teachers, specialist teachers, head teachers and early years heads; educational psychology, education officers and education leads for ASN; and social work, health visitors, GPs, school nurses, medical staff, community police and third sector organisations. School staff also stated that there was a range of partners involved in decision making.

"In the best case scenario, everyone is in agreement."
Educational Psychologist


In one area, a team appoints two assessors to separately visit the young person in their environment. This helps the group to consider whether the child should be educated in a mainstream school, or in a school with more specialist provision.

2.16 The key factors taken into account when considering education options for children with ASN were:

  • aiming for provision as close to mainstream as possible - including building independence for the future;
  • community integration - including aiming for provision as close to home as possible;
  • the complexity of the case - and whether children can cope in different environments or require specialist input;
  • the capacity of different types of provision - and the training, specialisms and knowledge of the staff;
  • the child's progression to date - whether they are achieving, and how they are progressing in line with their age and stage;
  • the home environment - including support at home, the needs of the child and family and any child protection issues;
  • the views and expectations of parents and young people; and
  • resources - including budget constraints and availability of spaces.

2.17 Some local authority officers indicated that there was pressure from the local authority to support certain educational options due to lack of resources and budget constraints.

2.18 Local authorities felt that the decision making process was helped by:

  • good quality information - from schools and educational psychologists, particularly useful where this is focused on needs, progress and options already tried, and there is a consistent local planning process requiring good quality information;
  • good relationships - with children, families and all the staff around the child; and
  • specialist assessments and observations of the child in school.

2.19 The process was made more difficult if:

  • there is a lack of background information or history about the child (for example due to challenges around information sharing);
  • options require travel, across large rural areas;
  • parents have already made up their minds about what they want and are not happy to consider options;
  • schools or parents have unrealistic expectations about what is possible;
  • the child is not meaningfully involved - particularly an issue if they have complex needs;
  • head teachers don't have the confidence or resources (including money, staff or facilities) to try different approaches within the mainstream setting - with skills, confidence and expertise varying;
  • pupils with social, emotional or behavioural needs are adversely affected by the reputation of their family in small communities; or
  • the resources are not available to provide the preferred educational option.

2.20 While some local authorities involved in the research felt that there were significant challenges taking decisions about provision for children with ASN, some felt there were few challenges and the process worked well.

School views

2.21 School staff generally indicated that the decision making process relating to the education options available to children worked reasonably well.

2.22 However, school staff in one local authority area felt that the decision making process was unclear and lacked resources. There was concern that key roles across the local authority had been lost and not replaced, resulting in a lack of clarity around the decision making process. There was concern that there were no clear criteria for accessing specialist provision and a lack of awareness about who was involved in the process and what the other options were.

"They are removing as many posts as possible. There is no education leadership…"
Deputy head teacher

"I have a little girl who has been referred here on a special placement and I don't know why and I don't know who was on the panel that made that decision."
Head teacher

"A lot of the people who make decisions about this place have never been in it."
Head teacher, special school

2.23 A few teachers were concerned that there was pressure on staffing of related services, which slowed down the assessment process. In one area, one teacher was concerned that late recognition of dyslexia appeared common across the authority, and was concerned that this was due to pressure on resources.

"The demise of staffing levels in other agencies, especially speech and language, has had a negative impact on the process of assessing need."
Head teacher

2.24 Staff at the four special schools involved in the research largely felt that the process worked well, with children going through rigorous processes before they arrive at the school which ensure that their needs are met. However, at one school senior staff felt that children could just "arrive" with little advance information about their situation. This was at a school for social, emotional and behavioural needs, where the school population was relatively fluid between mainstream and specialist provision.

2.25 Staff at primary and secondary schools emphasised the importance of transitions between nursery, primary and secondary - and communication between schools at critical stages. Most were positive about the transitions processes, and the communication between schools.


In one area, there is a transition teacher who visits all of the feeder primary schools. She builds relationships with pupils with ASN and collates pupil information so that by the time pupils start in S1 the school understands the need for targeted support. Young people with ASN are also allocated a key teacher, who visits the primary schools before the summer holidays.

Support available within schools

2.26 Internally, schools used a range of methods to identify ASN and plan effective support. In most cases, class teachers were responsible for identifying ASN, if they had not already been identified at nursery by health visitors or by health professionals from birth and early years. Schools had clear processes for teachers to refer concerns about ASN to relevant staff or internal decision making groups. Teachers were well aware of these approaches. Schools then used a range of methods to identify ASN, put in place relevant support and set reasonable targets for progression.


One school developed pupil friendly targets that staff discussed with each child. This allows children to self-evaluate using a traffic light system. They have also developed life skills planners to set appropriate and relevant targets, such as being able to fasten a seatbelt or get on a bus.

2.27 Support assistants felt that normally teachers or members of the leadership team led on assessing needs. However, support assistants did play an important role in undertaking specific assessments (such as for dyslexia or nurture support); in providing their opinions in an informal way to teachers; undertaking observations of pupils in class and reporting back; and developing appropriate targets for children and young people. Support assistants generally felt that their opinions were valued, but that teachers took the lead on this.

2.28 Within schools, a wide range of additional support was available. Schools emphasised that they provided individualised support, to meet each child's needs. However, the main types of additional support available in mainstream schools included:

  • staff including personal support assistants, support for learning assistants, classroom assistants, key teachers, ASN link teachers, inclusion workers, home-school link workers, school counsellors and behaviour support staff;
  • dedicated ASN classes or bases;
  • targeted in class or out of class support with reading and maths, including dyslexia support programmes;
  • support to help with health and wellbeing including nurture rooms, support with relaxation, chill zones and coping with bereavement or loss; and
  • personal care, medical and hygiene care.

2.29 The four special schools involved in this research had a range of different additional support available including high staff to pupils ratios, small class sizes, in house specialists and facilities such as swimming pools, hydro pools, soft play areas and chill out zones.

Views on the balance of provision

Local authority views

2.30 Overall, most local authority officers felt that the balance of provision in their area was improving. Many pointed to increasing flexibility, and a focus on pathways - which can change and develop as needed - rather than placements. Many emphasised that there was now more movement between mainstream and specialist provision, and an ability to design arrangements which suited the needs of the child. One local authority officer described this as making sure that the service goes to the child, rather than the child going to the service.

"We never have young people stuck in a provision."
Education officer

"We are trying to make provisions better integrated. We are aware that standalone provisions can be isolated and there is a risk of deskilling staff."
Educational psychologist

2.31 However, most also felt that there was lots still to do to continue to improve the balance of provision. The main areas for development included:

  • developing the resources available in mainstream schools and mainstream schools with enhanced bases - including money, staff and facilities;
  • recruiting and retaining teaching and support staff with the specialist skills required - and ensuring that support staff can move with the child wherever possible;
  • better understanding the outcomes achieved by children with ASN;
  • meeting specific needs including social, emotional and behavioural needs, mental health needs and (in some areas) autism;
  • focusing on early intervention and identifying issues before problems such as poor attendance manifest themselves;
  • continuing to build flexibility in pathways; and.
  • ensuring all geographies have appropriate options for provision, across large rural areas.

2.32 In some areas, there was a clear feeling that there were not enough resources to meet needs - particularly in mainstream schools, including schools with enhanced bases. Some felt that special schools were often well resourced, but that there was a lot of pressure on mainstream schools and a lot of demand for places in enhanced bases.

2.33 In one area, local authority officers felt that planning to meet the needs of children with ASN had been strongly influenced by unforeseen major issues with resourcing which had meant that the options for developing provision within the budget available had become very limited. In another area, officers felt that provision had developed in an opportunistic and unplanned way, based largely on the physical space available within school buildings. The authority was working to address this.

School views

2.34 School staff also had comments on the balance of provision. Staff in special schools often felt that their role was changing. Some were seeing their role focus in on the children with the most severe and complex needs. And one school found it was becoming less like a school that pupils would attend full time, to more like a support service providing enhanced support with the aim of re-integrating pupils into mainstream provision.

2.35 However, at one special school leadership staff indicated concern that pupils end up staying at the school throughout their school life, without consideration of whether they could achieve in a mainstream environment.

"If they stay here for too long, they can become institutionalised. The longer they are away from mainstream, the harder it can be to get back in."
Head teacher, special school

2.36 Mainstream school staff often felt that they were seeing pupil needs increase, with more pupils with more complex needs attending the school in recent years. To address this, some schools had used Pupil Equity Funding for support assistant roles, or for leadership roles around ASN.

"More and more people are coming to school who would previously have been in special units."
Class teacher

"Schools are being left to support very vulnerable children."
Deputy head teacher

"We have taken on board that kids should be in class as much as possible. But we're doing them a disservice by trying to always keep them in mainstream."
Principal teacher

2.37 Teachers at one secondary school echoed local authority staff concerns that special schools and support bases remained reasonably well resourced while mainstream schools - which were coping with increasing needs - saw their resources reduce.

"Special education is better resourced than mainstream, even though under mainstreaming we are accepting more pupils with more identified additional needs who would have accessed alternative provision in the past."
ASN lead, secondary school

2.38 Finally, one teacher emphasised the importance of mixing children with different needs at school, for all children's benefit.

"Being at school with children with additional support needs is a gift for children who do not have support needs. They learn how to appreciate and accept others."
Head teacher, primary school



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