Theme 3: Maintaining focus, but overcoming fragmentation
Significant breadth of knowledge and experience is needed to effectively deliver the key processes of additional support for learning implementation, including identifying, responding, and coordinating/monitoring. This is due to the wide range of issues and conditions identified in the legislation and already referred to here.
There has been a strength of concern expressed to the Review about the loss of specialist expertise and practice experience through reductions and changes in career pathways as well as due to resource pressures. This loss of expertise, and of respected champions and advocates for additional support for learning within the system, has further reinforced diminishing visibility and value at strategic levels.
Equally, the risk of focusing on additional support for learning as a specialism has been evident in reinforcing views where non-additional support for learning professionals believe additional support for learning is for others to deal with – not them.
This has been one of the areas in which evidence to the Review from practitioners has been striking in consistency of language.
The strength of this reinforces that an increased pace of movement to an overall universal baseline of inclusive practice, in terms of values, culture and mind-set as well as delivery models, is essential.
This trajectory brings benefit and improvement in the learning experience of all children and young people and to building confidence in all professionals.
However, over-reliance on inclusion without specialism in a climate of overall low visibility of additional support for learning at all levels has risks. For example, young people have expressed concern that some schools now view their focus on LGBTI young people (which they fully support) as constituting their inclusion agenda. This reinforced the experience some children and young people have of being overlooked and low priority.
Another strong theme emerging is that generalised concepts of inclusion and the broader GIRFEC framework have not driven inclusive practice for children and young people. Instead, they have led to a diluting of focus and understanding of significant barriers to learning and obscured the need for focused expertise.
This reinforces the case made for flexible child and young person centred provision. There needs to be the earliest possible access to any tailored and specialist support needed. This must be underpinned by an inclusive culture of values and principles in which children and young people feel safe, happy and accepted as the grounding for their learning.
Evidence to the Review confirms that both perspectives are required and do not need to be in conflict. Universal inclusion and specialist focus are both essential features in order to ensure Additional Support for Learning has priority and parity of visibility. That needs to be evident at policy development as well as delivery levels, so that Additional Support for Learning is an embedded, proactive consideration in any developments in education or children, young people and families' policy rather than an afterthought.
In practice, any review and repositioning of the edges and relationships between inclusion and specialism, requires a strategic approach to practitioner knowledge and skill development, as considerable caution was expressed by practitioners about the risks of focusing on some conditions to the exclusion of others.
Recommendation 3.1 Leadership and Strategic Planning
- There must be clear values-driven leadership, shared communication, support and challenge at all levels of the system to ensure that the experiences and achievements of children and young people with additional support needs are visible and continue to be improved.
- In order to drive a holistic approach and support the visibility of children and young people with additional support needs, local authority planning must incorporate the implications of additional support for learning for all local authority and partner services.
Recommendation 3.2 Fully integrated policy making
- Children and young people with additional support needs must be proactively and fully considered in policy making and appropriate cross-Government links made at the earliest stage.
- Children and young people, parents and carers must be partners in the development of key policies and guidance across the system.
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