Growing up in Scotland: early experiences of primary school

This research report highlights the key findings from the Growing up in Scotland early experiences study.


8.1 Introduction

This section considers the prevalence of additional support needs ( ASN), the types of ASN reported, support received and analysis of how other aspects of learning are affected by ASN. Whether a child has ASN or not can strongly influence their experiences of school, and as such it is important to identify and provide for those who may need additional support.

The last decade has seen the development and enactment of a range of important legislation related to this issue. In 2003, the Standards in Scotland's Schools Act came into force, introducing the 'presumption of mainstreaming'. This put a responsibility on local education authorities to place children, including those with disabilities and challenging behaviour, in mainstream schools.

In 2004, the concept of Additional Support Needs was established under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) Act. This widened the previous definition of Special Educational Needs to any situation where a child or young person would be unable to benefit from school education without the provision of additional support (Scottish Executive, 2005b).

This Act was updated in 2009 providing further rights for parents of children with ASN, placing more responsibilities on local councils and introducing requirements for looked after children. At the time of writing, there is a review underway (the Doran Review) to investigate whether the current system is achieving the best possible outcomes for those with ASN and to see if further improvements are necessary. Interim findings were published in October 2011 (Scottish Government, 2011).

Two Scottish Government approaches for supporting children and young people - the Curriculum for Excellence and Getting it Right for Every Child - recognise the need to care and provide for each child in an individualised way. A strong theme in the Curriculum for Excellence is that education should be adapted to each child's needs, which may include additional support. Getting it Right for Every Child focusses on the child's wider environment, but highlights the key role that school can play in ensuring each child's situation is assessed and provided for.

Additional Support Needs can be identified in a number of ways, usually through the parent or teacher raising concerns. Often, an assessment is done informally at school level but this may involve the local education authority and other specialists. Dependent on the level of needs, pupils may receive a Personal Learning Plan ( PLP), Individualised Educational Programme ( IEP) or a Co-ordinated Support Plan ( CSP).

A PLP is used for all children who have ASN. This allows teachers to work with the parents and children to set goals and regularly review progress and effectiveness of the support provided. Children who require a significant adaptation of the curriculum or need to coordinate input from other professionals may need an IEP. Again, it is a document to help plan and monitor support provided. CSPs are the only legally binding document and are used for those with complex and/or multiple ASN. They are produced to ensure different services work together to ensure the child gets the best support they need.

These recent developments within Scotland have had implications for the comparison of Scottish data over time and with other jurisdictions in the UK and beyond. With a wider definition introduced in recent times and updated recording practices, longitudinal data within Scotland should be interpreted with caution. Additionally, the term 'Additional Support Needs' is specific to Scotland, with other countries using the 'Special Educational Needs', each with their own precise definition. This makes direct international comparison difficult, even within the UK.

National data in Scotland are collected through publicly funded schools and defines the following reasons for ASN:

  • Learning disability
  • Dyslexia
  • Other specific learning difficulty ( e.g. numeric)
  • Other moderate learning difficulty
  • Visual impairment
  • Hearing impairment
  • Deafblind
  • Physical or motor impairment
  • Language or speech disorder
  • Autistic spectrum disorder
  • Social, emotional and behavioural difficulty
  • Physical health problem
  • Mental health problem
  • Interrupted learning
  • English as an additional language
  • Looked after
  • More able pupil
  • Other

The questions used in GUS have been designed using the same categories except for learning disability, which has a wider definition than that of the national data as it combines the other specific and moderate learning difficulties categories.

8.1.1 Data

The analysis in this section combines data from the birth cohort from sweeps 5 and 6 to in order to reflect the child's first year in primary school. Questions on ASN were also asked of the child cohort, however, these were used only at sweep 4 by which time some children had started Primary 2. The data were tested for the effect of interview date on the basis that those children who had been at school longer prior to their interview would have had a greater chance of being identified for ASN. There were no statistically significant differences in prevalence of ASN by date of interview for the birth cohort.

8.2 Key findings

  • 8% of children at Primary 1 are reported as having ASN by their main carer.
  • This figure is higher for boys (10%) than it is for girls (4%) and is also higher amongst children living in the most deprived two quintiles of the Scottish Index for Multiple Deprivation.
  • Nearly half of those with ASN (46%) were reported to have speech and language problems, just under a quarter (23%) reported social and/or behavioural problems and just under one-fifth (17%) reported learning disabilities.
  • Nearly one in three (31%) who reported having ASN have more than one type of need.
  • The most common form of support received was from the teacher who helped more than half of all those with ASN.

8.3 Prevalence of Additional Support Needs

Eight per cent of children were reported by their parent to have ASN in Primary 1. This is slightly lower than the latest (2010) Scottish national statistics figure of 9% for ASN prevalence amongst primary school children (Scottish Government, 2010). However, as ASN prevalence increases until a peak of around 9 years old, this might be expected when measuring the youngest age group (Department for Education, 2011). Additionally, recent national reporting of ASN prevalence has changed to a more comprehensive measure, which explains the large increase compared to the 2009 figure of 5.4%.

The differences by gender are also evident in the Scottish national summary statistics for schools (Scottish Government, 2010). In GUS, ASN prevalence was significantly higher for boys (10%) than it was for girls (4%), which is in line with national data from Scotland and further afield. It is not entirely clear why this is the case, perhaps due to physiological differences, behavioural differences or bias in the referral systems. It may also be influenced by other health outcomes (Coutinho, 2001). Boys also reported higher mean scores on the strength and difficulties questionnaire and a higher likelihood of having a long-standing illness than girls at sweep 6. These health trends have observed in GUS data seen since the early stages of the study (Bradshaw, 2008).

There was a notably higher prevalence of ASN amongst children living in the two most deprived quintiles, with average rates of 10% and 11% respectively. This was apparent for both boys and girls, with boys in the most deprived quintile reporting rates of nearly twice the average at 15%. Again, this trend is apparent within both national statistics and other comparable surveys. For example, the Millennium Cohort Study found higher rates of special needs amongst those in poverty, and the latest official statistics from England and Wales found higher rates amongst those eligible for free school meals (Department for Education, 2011, Hansen, 2010).

The effect of ethnicity was also investigated as it is a commonly reported demographic factor for this topic. National Scottish data have found differences in ASN prevalence according to ethnic group although the main differences appear to be between Travellers (high levels of ASN) and Asian Chinese (low levels of ASN) (Scottish Government, 2010). English data also show that black pupils have an increased likelihood of reporting SEN (Department for Education, 2011a). Due to the nature of the GUS sample, analysis is only possible for the groups 'white' and 'non-white', between which no significant difference in ASN prevalence was found.

Figure 8A Prevalence (%) of ASN by quintile of Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation and gender

Figure 8‑A Prevalence (%) of ASN by quintile of Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation and gender

Bases: Weighted 3344, Unweighted 3346.

8.4 Type of Additional Support Needs

Problems with speech and language were those most commonly reported. Just under half of all children with ASN were reported to have speech and language difficulties (46%; 4% of the cohort). A little under one-quarter were reported to have social and/or behavioural problems (23%; 2% of the cohort) and just under one-fifth learning disabilities (17%; 1% of the cohort).

The prevalence of all types of need were more common amongst boys than girls with the exception of dyslexia and being looked after, where the bases were very small. Most notably, boys accounted for 94% of all autistic disorders and 86% of all mental health problems reported.

These patterns match the latest data from England showing speech and language difficulties to be the most prevalent type of special need in primary school children (Department for Education, 2011). Interestingly, this did not match the conclusions from the Scottish national statistics (Scottish Government, 2010). They showed that learning disability (including moderate difficulties) was the most prevalent at 39%, followed by social or behaviour problems (20%) and then language or speech problems (13%). It should be noted that these national figures refer to all primary school children, and speech problems may be more prevalent at the younger end of the primary age range.

Figure 8B Proportion of those with ASN reporting type by gender

Figure 8‑B Proportion of those with ASN reporting type by gender

Bases: Weighted bases 251, Unweighted bases 250

8.4.1 Multiple Additional Support Needs

If a child has ASN arising from one or more complex reasons or multiple reasons, the local education authority is required to prepare a Co-ordinated Support Plan ( CSP). Despite this, the characteristics of those who have multiple ASN are not widely reported. Around one in three of those reporting ASN had more than one type of ASN although this equated to just 3% of all children in Primary 1.

Table 8.1 Multiple ASN

Number of additional support needs As percentage of those with ASN As percentage of whole sample
1 69 5
2 14 1
3 11 1
4 3 <1
5 1 <1
6 1 <1
Weighted 251 3375
Unweighted 250 3954

Speech and language problems was the type of ASN most frequently reported by those with multiple ASN (72% of those with two or more ASN). This was followed by learning disability (46%), social and behavioural problems (36%), autistic disorder (30%), physical disability (25%) and sight problems (23%).

8.5 Support for ASN

Support provided for those identified with ASN can be wide ranging, from extra help from a teacher to visits from a health professional to attending a special school. Parents of children with ASN were asked what type of support their child received 14 . Support from a teacher was the most commonly reported type with 60% of those with ASN mentioning this. The second most common answer was 'other' (21%) indicating the wide variety needs and support provision.

Table 8.2 Those using specific types of support as a percentage of those who have ASN

Percentage of those requiring type of support who have ASN
Birth Child
Support from teacher 60 56
Special classes 18 18
Special school 12 11
Equipment provided 10 11
Environment adapted 8 9
Support from family 4 6
Other 21 36
Weighted 251 142
Unweighted 250 143

Interestingly, 13% of those with ASN either did not require or were not receiving any form of support listed above. These included children with a range of ASN types but were predominantly speech and language problems, social and behavioural problems and 'other' ASN types. The majority (60%) used only one form of support (predominantly support from the teacher or 'other'). 27% reported using two or more types of support, ranging up to six different types.

8.6 ASN and homework

The presence of ASN influenced a number of outcomes relating to homework. Children with ASN were less likely to receive homework than those without (6% versus less than 1%). Parents of children with ASN were more likely to say it was difficult to get their child to do their homework and less likely to say it was easy.

Table 8.3 Ease of getting child to do their homework

Additional Support Needs
Yes No Total
Very or fairly easy 67 85 84
Neither easy nor difficult 9 7 7
Very or fairly difficult 17 7 8
Child does not get homework 6 0 1
Weighted 189 2084 3347
Unweighted 172 2111 3351

Parents of children with ASN were also more likely to say they were confident helping their child with some tasks rather than all tasks. However, it did not affect whether parents said they were not confident at all.

Table 8.4 Confidence in helping with child's homework

Additional Support Needs
Yes No Total
Confident in all subjects or tasks 80 90 89
Confident in some subjects or tasks but not in others 18 10 10
Not confident at all 2 1 1
Weighted 235 3081 3322
Unweighted 209 3111 3326

Note: columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

8.7 ASN and attendance and absence

Pupils with ASN were less likely to achieve full attendance when asked about the previous month (child cohort) but there were no differences when asked over the previous six months (birth cohort).

As with other variables analysed in the attendance and absence section, the common trends found in other literature are only picked up in the GUS data when measured over the shorter recall period. Scottish national statistics have shown that those with ASN have higher levels of absence from school, although the difference is more obvious in secondary schools (Scottish Government, 2011b).

Figure 8C Full attendance levels and ASN

Figure 8‑C Full attendance levels and ASN

Bases: Birth cohort: Weighted 3349, Unweighted 3352; Child cohort: Weighted 2184, Unweighted 218.

Children with ASN from the child cohort were more likely to be absent due to medical appointments and less likely to be ill than those without ASN. Data from the birth cohort supported this finding for the medical appointments but there were no significant differences for child illness 15 . The national statistics for England also found that children with ASN were less likely to be ill but they did not mention any differences in medical appointments (Department for Education, 2011).

Table 8.5 ASN and main reason for absence 16

Additional Support Needs
Yes No Total
Child was ill 51 72 69
Child had doctor, dental or hospital appointment 25 11 13
A family holiday or trip 9 9 9
Child refused to go to school 3 1 1
Other 11 8 8
Weighted 70 572 642
Unweighted 62 557 619

Note: columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

8.8 Attitudes towards inclusive schooling

At sweep 4, a number of questions were included which explored parents' attitudes towards inclusive education where children with additional support needs attend mainstream schools. The items were asked of parents in both cohorts. The figures here are from the birth cohort.

The first two questions asked parents the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with two statements:

  • It is important that parents of children with additional support needs are able to send their child to a mainstream school if they wish
  • Allowing pupils with additional support needs to attend mainstream school improves the education experience of those pupils

81% of parents strongly agreed or agreed with the first statement and 68% strongly agreed or agreed with the second. There were no significant differences by child, parent or family characteristics.

The final question asked parents to select which, from a choice of three, statement came closest to their feelings about inclusive education for children with ASN. The statements provided were:

  • Allowing pupils with additional support needs to attend mainstream school has a negative impact on other pupils at the school
  • Allowing pupils with additional support needs to attend mainstream school has a positive impact on other pupils at the school
  • Allowing pupils with additional support needs to attend mainstream school has no impact on other pupils at the school

71% of parents selected the middle statement, believing that there is a positive impact on other pupils if pupils with additional support needs are in mainstream schools. A further 21% believed there was no impact on other pupils. Just 8% felt there was a negative impact. No significant differences were observed across any key sub-groups.


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