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

Findings from qualitative research.

6. Meeting the needs of children and young people

Chapter summary

Overall, most local authority officers and school staff felt that they were meeting the needs of children with ASN reasonably - in the context of having very limited resources. The key factors which school staff felt helped with meeting needs included enhanced support or bases; bespoke and targeted approaches; empowered and skilled staff; support within the classroom; and the flexibility and physical space to meet individual needs.

Almost all local authority officers and school staff felt there was room for improvement in meeting needs. Schools across all local authorities involved in the research highlighted pressures on resources. 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 all under pressure or decreasing in number. Other challenges included:

  • consistency - with some feeling experiences could be very mixed, dependent on the school; and
  • balancing time - many teachers in mainstreams schools highlighted particular challenges around balancing their time between the whole class and pupils needing individual support - particularly when some felt pressure to ensure all children were improving their attainment.

A few teachers mentioned that they felt the inclusion of children with ASN, particularly behavioural needs, was having a negative impact on learning within mainstream classes.

Overall, local authority officers and school staff felt that children would largely be having a positive and inclusive experience at school - but that it did depend on the school. Some schools found there could be a clear boundary between ASN bases and mainstream schools, even though they were within the one school or building.

Some felt there may be gaps around meeting the needs of children with social, emotional and behavioural needs and autism (in some instances). Most school staff said that there were one or two pupils at their school that they felt may benefit from other environments - most often relating to SEBN.


6.1 This chapter explores local authority and school staff views on how effectively the needs of children and young people with ASN are being met in education. The views of young people are explored in detail in Chapter Three, and the views of parents are explored in detail in Chapter Four.

6.2 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.

Overall views on meeting needs - local authorities

6.3 Overall, most local authority officers felt that they were meeting the needs of children with ASN reasonably - with recent improvements around having a clear ethos which is shared across partners, clear expectations, using creative approaches, upskilling staff and engaging parents and children. But almost all felt there was room for improvement.

6.4 Some felt that experiences could be very mixed, dependent on the school. Clear leadership from head teachers and training for staff in schools was felt to make a big difference in how well schools could meet needs. Where there had been an investment in training, this was felt to be beneficial. However, some local authority officers had concerns that teacher training generally didn't cover complex ASN, and that it could be hard to access training.


In one area, young people and parents co-delivered training on ASN for staff. They have done this for dyslexia and dyscalculia and are working on doing this for mental health as well.

"The cost of training can be outwith the scope of a school's budget."
Education officer

6.5 In one area, there was concern that the attainment agenda had given more power to head teachers, which did not necessarily foster inclusion. This area had seen a shift coming from some schools to try to get more children with ASN into specialist provision. It was felt that the increasing focus on attainment has meant that some schools may now be more concerned about supporting children with ASN in a mainstream environment. There was some concern that head teachers may try to convince parents to take their children out of mainstream environments as a result.

"We are extremely worried about the future of inclusion in Scotland."
Educational psychologist

6.6 In two areas, local authority officers felt concerned that they were not meeting the needs of children with ASN and their families. This was linked to the level of resources, with cuts in support for learning posts, and authorities not filling vacant posts in schools or centrally and not getting maternity cover.

6.7 These issues around resources were also raised in other areas, although local authority officers in these areas felt that they were still largely able to meet needs. Some were concerned that their area had lost lots of experienced staff recently, and some were concerned about pressure on staff as teams became smaller. A few were also concerned that the buildings and space available constrained their ability to meet needs.

"The reality is that we can't offer something if we can't recruit the staff."
Education officer

"Local authorities are feeling the impact of budgetary constraints. In an ideal world, we could be doing a whole lot more."
Educational psychologist

"(the area) has swung too far towards integration, without provision for specialist support within schools."
Educational psychologist

Overall views on meeting needs - schools

6.8 Overall leaders, teachers and support workers in mainstream primary and secondary schools (with and without enhanced support) felt that they were doing a reasonably good job at meeting children's needs, but in the context of having very limited resources.

"Do we get it right for every child, probably not. But we do the best we can with what we've got."
Deputy head, secondary school

"We get it right most of the time. We use the resources we have to the best ability."
Head teacher, primary school

"I think there are young people here that are surviving. But should they just be surviving or coping? I want them to be succeeding and thriving."
Teacher, secondary school

6.9 Overall, staff in special schools felt that they were effectively meeting the needs of children with ASN. However, one school found that it was hard to meet the needs of children with social, emotional and behavioural needs, due to the pressures and extreme problems experienced at home every day. One special school felt it was over capacity and had issues around space in the building. A few special schools mentioned that staff were pressured, and it could be hard to recruit skilled staff to special schools.

6.10 Some, particularly primary schools, felt that they were doing well at identifying needs, but were not always doing so well at supporting pupils with ASN to attain - largely due to pressures on resources.

What helps

6.11 The key factors which leaders and teachers within schools felt helped with effectively meeting needs were:

  • availability of enhanced support or bases within the school - with small class sizes;
  • ability to create bespoke places and bases for children with particular needs;
  • targeted approaches with small groups;
  • having empowered, motivated, skilled and experienced staff who are confident to try new things;
  • having support- classroom assistants, Personal Support Assistants and Support for Learning teachers;
  • flexibility to create an individualised curriculum;
  • ability to resource targeted approaches (for example through Pupil Equity Fund);
  • physical space - flexible space in the classroom to allow group and individual work, and space within the school to create dens, low sensory input areas and other facilities;
  • good transitions between year groups, and between primary and secondary stages; and
  • partnership working with children, parents, other schools and partners.

6.12 Leaders within special schools highlighted the benefits of access to high quality facilities, small class sizes, high pupil to support staff ratios and a focus on early intervention. A few teachers at special schools also stressed the importance of choice and individualisation of learning.

"Giving pupils the experience of choice can reduce their stress levels, as often life for pupils is very restrictive and there are too many boundaries."
Teacher, special school

6.13 Teachers across all schools felt that having a supportive head teacher and wider management team was critical.

"There is a caring, honest, open management team. It is a safe and secure environment for staff and pupils."
ASN teacher, primary school

6.14 Teachers, particularly at special schools, also emphasised the importance of building relationships with pupils.

"It is all about building relationships. What makes them tick? What are their anxieties and worries?"
Teacher, special school


In one area, a secondary school used PEF funding to fund a primary teacher to work two days a week in the English department. The teacher works with pupils in the mainstream school (although the school does also have a base for pupils with specific needs). The teacher works with pupils who need support with early level literacy work. The teacher brings expertise, and has taught other teachers in the school a lot about how to approach this type of learning. One year, the school created an extra English class that the primary teacher, ASL lead and faculty head taught as a team teaching experience. Ten of the children developed enough "survival skills" to cope in the mainstream classroom, while five continue to receive group support outwith the class.

6.15 While one school highlighted that it was very helpful to have a supportive and engaging local authority, schools in another area had significant concerns about their ability to meet needs due to perceived reductions in pupil support, other specialist services and strategic support within the local authority.

What hinders

6.16 Schools across all local authorities involved in the research highlighted pressures on resources. 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 all under pressure or decreasing in number.

"I wish we had more hours in the working day. I wish we had more money. I wish we had a better environment."
Deputy head, secondary school

"Schools are in a really hard place. Support for learning staff have been badly cut, so we really need to look at upskilling staff."
Head teacher, primary school

6.17 Ability to support pupils with ASN in a mainstream environment, in the context of limited resources was a particular concern for three schools within one local authority.

"If we can't meet pupil's needs with the resources in the school, there is nothing else to do… We're aware that we're not meeting all pupil's needs and that pupils are missing out."
Principal teacher, secondary school

"We're not meeting everybody's needs. There's no question that we're failing young people."
Targeted support teacher, secondary school

6.18 Many teachers in mainstream schools highlighted particular challenges around balancing their time between the whole class and pupils needing individual support. Some felt that a small number of pupils with a high level of need took up most of their time. A few teachers were concerned that the other pupils were therefore not challenged enough in their learning. Teachers also highlighted wider time pressures, with concern about not having time to research new approaches or needs, or to support classroom assistants properly or liaise with support for learning workers.

"There are maybe about five children in my class who take up about 80 per cent of my time. I've got to meet these five children's needs, but I've also got to meet the needs of all the pupils in my class."
Teacher, primary school

"We are less able to do intensive group work, as we don't have the resources."
ASN teacher, secondary school

6.19 A few support workers highlighted that it was important that teachers recognised that supporting children with ASN was their job, not just the responsibility of support staff.

6.20 Some school leaders and teachers also felt that waiting lists and referral times for specialist services like speech and language therapy or CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) were a challenge.

6.21 Some school leaders also highlighted a clash between the attainment agenda and the focus on mainstreaming for children with ASN. Many found it hard to balance learning and teaching for the whole class, with the additional support required.

"There are very strong pressures to attain, and be nurturing, and put people through their exams. There can be a clash."
ASN lead, secondary school

6.22 Many teachers felt very well supported, but some indicated that access to training was a barrier.

"I feel very well supported, both personally and professionally, by the senior management team."
ASN class teacher, secondary school

"We try our best, but we don't have a lot of specialist training or knowledge… sometimes I feel like I'm out of my depth."
Class teacher, primary school

6.23 In one special school, a teacher felt that high achieving deaf pupils could be held back from achieving due to the skills and subject expertise of their sign support teacher.

6.24 A few also felt that it was a challenge to demonstrate progress and achievement of children with ASN.

"I don't think we're as robust in evidencing progress for ASN pupils."
Head teacher, primary school

6.25 A few highlighted that while they worked to keep children safe, healthy and included at school, this was a challenge for many of their pupils when they returned home.

"They are safe, valued and healthy at school, but at home it can just be a vicious cycle."
Deputy head teacher, special school

6.26 Finally, a few school leaders also felt that school buildings (both old and new) were not suitable for catering for the needs of children with ASN, with spaces in high demand and limited quiet space available for children to take some time out or do work separately for a time.

"The environment and space is really important, and our space is under pressure."
ASL lead, primary school

6.27 Teachers also highlighted that facilities for pupils with ASN could be better - to include quiet spaces, secure outdoor spaces or sensory areas. A few highlighted that schools had not been designed to accommodate the range of needs that they are now having to support.

"We have seen many changes in society in recent times, but the education system has not really changed much since Victorian times."
ASN teacher, secondary school

Access to professional learning

6.28 Overall, most teachers felt that they had good access to training and professional learning. This was facilitated by supportive, committed and inclusive leadership teams and head teachers.

6.29 Teachers enjoyed accessing training courses, hearing about both theory and practice, sharing their knowledge, and having opportunities to challenge themselves.

6.30 The main restriction that teachers highlighted was the ability to take time away from class. In particular, a few mentioned that it can be hard for teachers of pupils who need a clear routine to take time away from their pupils. A few also felt it could be hard to share learning from training and events, due to time pressures on staff across the school.

6.31 Teachers in two rural areas felt that it could be hard to access quality training due to the need to travel large distances, and budget constraints making it difficult for teachers to attend events outwith their local authority area. One teacher felt there was a gap in training aimed specifically at supporting pupils with hearing impairment.

6.32 Most support workers highlighted that they had many opportunities to develop their skills, in relation to themes like nurture, communication, safeguarding, mental health, behaviour management, literacy, restorative practice, first aid and wider medical training. Support workers often highlighted that they were well supported by leaders in the school in relation to training. Some said that PEF had helped them to access training. However, some support workers were interested in more training, and felt restricted in terms of training availability and ability to take time out of class to go to training. In one local authority, support workers felt they did not have access to adequate training opportunities.

Views on inclusion

6.33 Overall, local authority officers felt that children would largely be having a positive and inclusive experience at school. However, it was felt that there would be differences in experience between schools and local authorities were working on creating consistency. Many emphasised that experiences varied depending on the leadership, skills and attitudes of staff in schools.

"There are some excellent and very inclusive schools. Some schools have managed to create a more inclusive environment."
Educational psychologist

"It depends on the skills, experience and attitude of the head teacher and senior management, on them setting an inclusive agenda."
Education officer

6.34 Most schools felt that overall, children would have positive and inclusive experiences at school. Most felt that children were well included in the curriculum, and well included in whole school events such as shows, celebrations and trips.

6.35 However, some found that there could be a clear boundary between bases for pupils with ASN and mainstream pupils, within the one school or building. While some schools were trying to bring these closer together, a few secondary school staff mentioned that at times pupils did not want to attend specialist bases due to the stigma and negative perceptions of the base. However, some staff at primary schools highlighted that children often very much enjoyed being in ASN bases and nurture rooms, felt comfortable and it could be hard to encourage some pupils to integrate into the mainstream school provision.

6.36 Staff at a few secondary schools were concerned about pupils with ASN turning up to school, but then either truanting from class within the school, or not actively participating in the class and the learning within it.

6.37 Staff at two special schools highlighted that it could be hard to support children to feel included if there was a limited peer group - for example in terms of age or gender. This was a particular issue in very small schools or in schools where most of the pupils were male.

"Sometimes it's not easy to include kids if there isn't a peer group. For example, M has no peers that are girls her age that are interested in fashion the way she is. So, she's not really included and within the school there's no replication of society for her."
Head teacher, special school

6.38 Overall, school staff felt that it was easier to build inclusion if:

  • children and parents were involved in the process;
  • staff within the school worked as a team;
  • there was a strong culture of inclusion within the school;
  • the resources were available to provide support in mainstream schools; and
  • staff could be trained in specialist approaches.

6.39 School staff felt it was more challenging if:

  • children and young people were affected by poverty or challenging home circumstances;
  • parents and children had previous negative experiences of school or wider services;
  • schools were unable to respond to needs quickly due to workloads and limited resources;
  • school were unable to provide support staff due to limited staffing and resources; and
  • there were conflicts between pupils (mentioned in a few small, specialist schools).

6.40 A few teachers mentioned that they felt that the inclusion of children with ASN, and particularly behavioural needs, was having a negative impact on learning within mainstream classes.

"The better behaved ones are really missing out."
Subject teacher, secondary school

"I sometimes wonder if a child needs one to one support to be able to be in a mainstream class setting, whether this is the best thing for the child and the rest of the pupils in the class."
Teacher, primary school

Variances in meeting needs and gaps in provision

6.41 Local authority officers were most positive about meeting the needs of young people with complex needs in special schools; with mild to moderate learning difficulties in mainstream schools due to established teaching methods; and with dyslexia which had been a recent area of focus for many.

6.42 Local authority officers felt that the main gaps in meeting needs related to social, emotional and behavioural needs, autism and mental health needs. These gaps meant that a few children with social, emotional and behavioural needs had to go outwith the authority for their education. Local authority officers stressed that meeting these needs required highly skilled staff, but some felt that the increased focus on understanding adverse childhood experiences was helping with this.

6.43 A few also highlighted gaps in meeting the needs of children affected by poverty and family breakdown; young carers; migrant families; and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people experiencing bullying.

6.44 In two areas, there was serious concern about suicide and attempted suicide among children with ASN and their parents which made a few officers extremely concerned about whether they were effectively meeting needs.

6.45 Many school staff indicated that everyone was an individual, and it could be hard to identify groups or characteristics of pupils whose needs were well met. Many felt that it was right that children's experiences should vary at school, and everyone should have their own individual experience. However, there were particular concerns around ability to meet the needs of:

  • pupils with social, emotional and behavioural needs - due to the challenges around managing behaviour issues within a mainstream classroom; the long process needed to build relationships; and the wider challenges around attachment and home lives often associated with these needs;
  • pupils with autistic spectrum disorders - while some school staff with a base focusing on autism felt that these pupils' needs were well met, those in schools without specific support indicated that meeting these needs could be a challenge - particularly due to the wide range in ways these needs manifest themselves and particular challenges when linked with wider mental health issues; and
  • pupils with complex needs - while some school staff felt that pupils may have their needs well met, because their needs are clear and their resources are prioritised in this way, some staff felt that they needed more support and guidance for staff to be able to meet these needs.

6.46 Some schools indicated that ASN could be easier to meet when there was positive joint working with parents, a good home to school link, and a stable home environment. A few felt that in some cases, pupils with vocal parents could have their needs met more effectively than others.

Evidence about meeting needs

6.47 School leaders highlighted that they gathered evidence about whether they were meeting the needs of pupils with ASN through:

  • assessing against targets - reflecting on these jointly with pupils, families and other partners at progress meetings;
  • tailor made tracking systems - recording baselines and measuring progress against these;
  • pupil behaviour and observations - for example noting changes in how long pupils are able to concentrate for, noting whether children are anxious or coping in the school environment;
  • reviews from professionals such as Educational Psychology;
  • teacher judgement data;
  • family meetings - gathering feedback from pupils and parents; and
  • evaluations - reviewing the impact of specific initiatives and approaches.


In one area, a special school bought in the Q Skills programme, to help them to record small milestones in progression. They felt that this was missing from the Curriculum for Excellence model, as children were always marked as not achieving what they should according to age and stage.


In one area, a primary school found it hard to measure progress for children in the ASN base within the school. The standard school planner used to measure progress against Curriculum for Excellence levels was not felt to be appropriate, as many of the pupils were below the early level. They are now using a planner developed by a special school in another local authority area, which was designed to measure progress for ASN pupils, and focusing on key skills and progress.

6.48 Teachers also indicated that they used evidence from:

  • observations - staff often knew pupils very well, and could note improvements in length of concentration, behaviour and engagement in the class;
  • daily interaction - allowing teachers to understand how pupils feel on a daily basis;
  • feedback from parents;
  • learning conversations with children; and
  • monitoring attendance both at school and within each class.

"I think attendance rates are a good indication. They're doing well because they are turning up every day and attending class."
Teacher, secondary school (in ASN base)

"We do have assessment folders for each child. But the main thing is seeing them in the class. It is the little changes along the way, the steps forward that you notice."
Teacher, special school

6.49 However, one secondary school leader indicated that it was very pressured and took a reactive approach - if the ASN department was not contacted by pupils, teachers or parents looking for more support then they had to assume that everything was okay for the pupil.

Views on alternative options

6.50 School leaders were asked whether they felt any pupils at their school would be better supported in other environments. While some said that there were no pupils that would be better supported elsewhere, most said that they had one or two pupils who may benefit from other environments.

6.51 The most common instance was in relation to pupils with challenging social, emotional and behavioural needs and exhibiting violent behaviour. School leaders felt concerned when pupils may be a risk to themselves (for example putting themselves in unsafe situations) and to others in the school. It was felt that for these pupils, there needed to be a dedicated focus on nurture and developing a safe place. However, two school leaders (in different authorities) were not sure what the options for these children were.

"If the child has more severe SEBN and mental health needs, I don't think we're set up for that. And I don't think there is anywhere in the authority that is."
Head teacher, special school

6.52 A few school leaders at mainstream schools mentioned other pupils who may need a smaller setting, a calmer environment and one to one or two to one support - which could often not be provided in mainstream schools. A few mentioned the challenges of meeting these needs without enough Personal Support Assistants, due to budget cuts. However, pupils remained in mainstream schools because:

  • it took time to explore alternative options, and gain agreement between the child, parents and other stakeholders;
  • in a few cases, the school did not know what alternative options were available for meeting their pupils' needs;
  • in a few cases, schools felt discouraged from applying for places at special schools by their local authority;
  • in a few cases, schools felt that they would not be able to access a place based on previous experience; and
  • in a few cases, they were unable to get a full time space in a special school.

6.53 Leaders and teachers at two mainstream secondary schools in different local authority areas felt that they had a large number of pupils in their school who should be in other settings. These were pupils who would previously have been placed in a special school, and they had significant learning needs and social, emotional and behavioural needs. Both schools felt that the local authority was reducing availability of spaces at special schools, and felt under pressure not to apply for these spaces.

"Mainstreaming with resources is fine. It is mainstreaming without the resources that is the problem."
ASL lead, secondary school

6.54 A few school leaders at primary level felt that their pupils were coping well, but had some concern about a small number of pupils as they transitioned into secondary school.

6.55 In contrast, the school leader and teacher at one special school identified a few primary pupils on shared placements who may be better full time in their mainstream schools. And two special schools were proactively working to support pupils back into mainstream provision, wherever possible.

6.56 Teachers largely felt that most pupils were in the correct provision. A few felt if there was more support within the classroom, more pupils could cope in mainstream classes. However, some felt that it could be hard to manage when pupils were not able to access dedicated support in an ASN base or classroom.

"In the afternoons we have no ASN room open and some of our ASN children find it very challenging to cope in a mainstream setting. It is then very difficult for the pupil and their peers. We have children who scream, run out of class, lie on the floor, throw objects and swear."
Teacher, primary school

6.57 Teachers indicated that pupils with complex ASN could take up a lot of time, which could be challenging in a large classroom environment. Sometimes teachers had to use PSAs to support children to do work separately out of the class, so the other pupils in the class could be supported to learn.



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