Consultation on excellence and equity for all: guidance on the presumption of mainstreaming

The guidance aims to ensures that local authorities have the guidance required to help their decision making in applying the presumption of mainstreaming.

4 How and why could the exemptions be applied?

24. This section provides further considerations for local authority decision makers. During the decision making process the education authority will work with the school(s), parents and other partners to see what further adjustments can be made to ensure that the child or young person is getting the best possible support within their current provision. If there is doubt about the suitability of mainstream provision, it is the role of the local authority to use the legislation to weigh up the factors around the child or young person’s wellbeing. A crucial facet of this is considering the three exemptions outlined in the Standards in Scotland’s Schools Etc. Act 2000. These exemptions do not automatically apply and the onus is on the local authority to demonstrate why the exemption could apply.

25. The three exemptions are that mainstream education:

(a) would not be suited to the ability or aptitude of the child;
(b) would be incompatible with the provision of efficient education for the children with whom the child would be educated; or
(c) would result in unreasonable public expenditure being incurred which would not ordinarily be incurred

and it shall be presumed that those circumstances arise only exceptionally.

26. These terms deliberately do not overprescribe what the presumption of mainstream means in practice. Local circumstances can be very different and how efficient education can be provided will vary widely across local authorities. A difficult but essential role of local authorities is to strike a balance for the presumption of mainstream education for as many children and young people as possible.

27. Guidance on how these terms could be interpreted is included in this section, but it is important that local authorities take account of their local circumstances and priorities when arriving at decisions. To assist authorities in their decision making process, there are a number of self-reflective questions in this section. If authorities have answered these questions before deciding which provision best suits a child or young person, then the decision making process is more transparent for everyone involved, including parents/carers and the children and young people at the centre of the process.

Ability and aptitude:

28. This guidance frequently refers to ‘achievement’ as being one of the key features of successful inclusion. It is essential that ambition is retained for all children and young people to enable them to fulfil their full learning potential. Ultimately, achievement is a personalised learning pathway. It can be progress towards personal goals or the opportunity to exceed perceived ability and aptitude with challenging and ambitious curricular and wellbeing targets. Achievement can also be more practical, and involve developing skills such as relationship-building and wider life skills. Ideally, achievement is a combination of the two, utilising the mainstream environment to include those with additional support needs alongside other learners and to aid the development of a more inclusive and just society.

29. Regardless, achievement is about each and every child and young person fulfilling their full potential. If a child or young person is meeting learning targets and has a full experience of school life then they are being well supported by a mainstream education system. If they are not, or it appears that appropriate progress is not being made, then it is sensible to explore if they could be better supported in their current environment.

30. In circumstances where these options have been exhausted, the best option for that child or young person may be a flexible placement with specialist support or a placement in a special school. The benefits of such a choice must be clearly demonstrated in order to apply the exemption on ability and aptitude.

31. If a child or young person can be adequately supported to achieve their full potential then the authority must then reflect on the additional considerations of the other two exemptions.

Reflective questions on ability and aptitude

Identifying and assessing additional support needs

The Practice Model of GIRFEC provides the framework for considering the needs of all children and young people. At the core of the Practice Model are the following 5 key questions staff should use when assessing the needs of children and young people:

1. What is getting in the way of this child or young person’s wellbeing?
2. Do I have all the information I need to help this child or young person?
3. What can I now do to help this child or young person?
4. What can my department/school do to help this young person?
5. What additional help, if any, may be needed from others?

  • What information about the strengths, specific needs and support systems required for each learner with an additional support need do staff have access to? Have children and young people been able to contribute to this information?
  • Do staff understand the implications of this information for their work in supporting children and young people? How effective are they in applying it?
  • How do staff, children and young people and parents develop a good understanding of the barriers faced by children and young people when accessing the curriculum?
  • How are other agencies involved in the wellbeing of the child or young person?
  • Do children and young people and their parents or carers have curricular learning targets to work on at home and at school?
  • How are children and young people encouraged to become independent learners, expressing their views and making choices?
  • Are staff aware of the system for alerting pupil support staff and educational colleagues to concerns?
  • How are children and young people encouraged to be as involved as possible in all aspects of the school and community?
  • Has the child or young person been able to achieve as expected by their class teacher? How has that been evidenced?
  • How do you assess, track and monitor progress in learning for all children and young people including those on individual programmes?
  • How are children and young people improving their wellbeing? How do you know they are making progress?
  • Is the child or young person beginning to or continuing to achieve against wellbeing indicators?

Incompatible with the efficient education for other children:

32. This exemption recognises that the inclusion of a child or young person with additional support needs within a particular classroom or learning environment may impact on the education of other children and young people. This is particularly likely to be the case in relation to disruptive behaviours, other support needs and wider disruptive factors. Local authorities must consider whether the placement of the individual child or young person within a particular mainstream environment may not be beneficial to that child or to the education of other children. This will require careful consideration, taking the full circumstances and evidence into account prior to reaching a conclusion. This includes de-escalation approaches and in exceptional circumstances may include physical interventions to ensure the safety of all pupils and staff. Local authority staff will need to handle these discussions with parents/carers with honesty and sensitivity, recognising that applying this exemption may feel like a rejection of their child by the school.

Reflective questions on efficient education for other children

  • How has the placement of this child or young person positively impacted on the education, wellbeing and wider experience of other children and young people?
  • How will the placement of this child or young person adversely impact on the education, wellbeing and wider experience of other children or young people?
  • How will the placement of this child or young person help overcome barriers to learning for the other children and young people? Equally, how might the placement of this child or young person present barriers to the learning of other children or young people?
  • How will you balance the needs of all children and young people within the school?

Unreasonable public expenditure:

33. Each local authority also has to consider what a reasonable level of public expenditure is within the context of their commitments. These commitments range from their legislative duties to the political commitments made by their elected members. The scale of resource available to adapt to a child or young person’s needs must also be considered in light of the other exemptions, particularly as regards efficient education for other children. For example, if the cost of adapting a school environment to support one child or young person was such that it would significantly impact the ability of the local authority to fund the needs of the rest of school, then it is right that questions are asked about the desirability of that outcome. This is true for mainstream, special schools and other flexible provision.

34. Ultimately the delicate balancing of differing priorities is a complex and necessary task undertaken by local authorities. Local authorities must take into account the bigger picture around the child or young person, their parents or carers, their teachers, their school leaders and their school(s). They should carefully weigh the variables and produce an outcome that they feel is the best option for the child, their classmates and the wider financial health of the local authority. The questions below are designed to aid that process.

Reflective questions on unreasonable public expenditure

  • How do we ensure that our resources are used most effectively? How do we ensure transparency and equity?
  • How do we allocate resources to sustain improvement priorities effectively?
  • What would the general benefit be to other pupils, in the long and short term, of the resource currently being proposed for the child or young person?
  • To what extent do our approaches to resource acquisition and allocation improve outcomes for all children and young people?


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