Review of additional support for learning implementation: report

Report from an independent review of the implementation of the additional support for learning legislation which began in September 2019 and concluded with the submission of this report and recommendations to Scottish Ministers and COSLA. Executive summary:, Young people’s version:

Theme 4: Resources

The remit of this Review specifies that the process should be confined to consideration of implementation within existing resources.

The location of those resources is not specified. However, as noted under Theme 1, whilst education authorities have responsibilities for Additional Support for Learning implementation, appropriate agencies[38] are also included as partners in delivery.

Therefore, this section includes limited comment on resources as justified within the parameters, timescale and capacity of the Review. The opportunity and the expertise required for legitimate analysis of the resource and financial dimension of Additional Support for Learning implementation lies with the Audit Scotland thematic review of Additional Support for Learning, planned to start by the end of 2020.

The impact of austerity and consequent poverty and inequality for families has necessarily been commented on throughout this report, as has the impact on public services and their capacity.

This is unavoidable in a context in which 30.9% of children and young people are identified as having an additional support need. The points which have already been made in Theme 2 on Mainstreaming and Inclusion about prioritisation of need must be acknowledged.

The Additional Support for Learning Act came into force in 2005 - before the world financial crash. It could not have been possible at that time to forecast the current challenges of increased need and identification of need and reducing resources.

The current situation highlights the relevance and alignment of the principle and policy of early intervention and prevention. Preventing distress, supporting positive childhood experiences and enabling all children and young people to flourish and achieve their potential, is key. The principle and policy is also relevant to the concept of investing in public funds at the earliest point for best impact and to save expenditure later.

The challenge of shifting investment to prevent acute need and crisis and across the boundaries of public sector services is common to the whole public sector reform agenda beyond the focus on Additional Support for Learning.

However, consistent with earlier comments on visibility, this Review found that the financial perspective is not sufficiently visible and recognised as a driver for change.

Expenditure on Additional Support for Learning comprises one of the areas of most unpredictable local authority spend associated with legal entitlements. However, senior figures in public sector finance confirmed that it tends to be overlooked at corporate level in local authorities due to the focus on the other very real challenges of providing adult and older people services.

This report has been deliberately titled "Support for Learning: All Our Children and All Their Potential" to reinforce that the right values, mind-set and culture are crucial to ensuring that whatever the level of resource, it must be invested in supporting inclusion, not reinforcing exclusion. That theme is repeated throughout the Review, for example in Theme 7, on Relationships and Behaviour.

A holistic approach to children and young people, which fully enables delivery of Learning for Life, has implications for all parts of local authority services. For example, in specialist health services, not just education. Early intervention, at its most effective, needs a framework of non-stigmatising easy access family support services – pre-school age and throughout.

These support services are distinct from and complementary to parenting programmes. They are often able to more successfully engage with families facing the most complex and embedded personal, social and family problems underpinned by poverty and inequality. Hence the value of support services at pre-school stage in addressing the problems described by many schools of children not being "school ready" in behaviours of eating, toileting and communicating.

These services are often provided by the Third Sector and the continuity and sustainability of these early intervention support services is essential.

The Review heard from many parents and carers whose children and young people need support outwith school hours. Restricted or withdrawn support, not just at school, but in the evening, at weekends and in school holidays, impacts on the child or young person's capacity to learn. It also has stressful knock on consequences for the whole family including other children and young people.

Many schools in areas of high deprivation have stretched their role and focus across the edges of public services in response to the impact of poverty and inequality on their children and young people. This can include practical help around food, clothing and family support.

School staff perceived that access to other public services, especially in health and social work, was requiring significantly higher thresholds. They saw this as preventing access to the services children and young people need. There is a variation in professional views about this stretch beyond the edge of school, with the majority leaning to a view that it is not appropriate to schools and their professional role.

This perspective emphasises the necessity and value of the broad discussion proposed under Theme 2, Mainstreaming and Inclusion. Concepts around enhanced provision and nurture have the potential to join the edges of services in order to support the continuity and quality of relationships for children and young people.

There is currently a divide in perception and perspective between education and the other statutory agencies about edges of responsibilities and thresholds for involvement and action. There was an encouraging general agreement that communication could and should be better. These challenges in communication are not unique to the focus of this review. Good communication requires time, which is a resource under pressure.

There are multiple variations in how health and social care delivery structures incorporate or connect with children's' services, including education.

The Review found that those structures are not automatically driving significant differences in key working relationships between professionals and coordination of services. The differing organisational cultures between education, social work and health are more influential in this than organisational structures

Strong, values driven leadership at service management levels are significant in overcoming this. People need the skills and willingness to forge individual professional relationships, and the drive to "get things done" regardless of, or despite, the structures.

Values driven leadership has been consistently identified as a key condition for effective implementation throughout this Review. That includes when that leadership is exercised, visible and recognised at corporate levels as well as by those within the service.

Overdependence on strong individual leaders, if other key conditions are not robustly in place, will always create a risk when those leaders move on. That highlights the concern expressed by those who have a longer term involvement with Additional Support for Learning that experienced champions and ambassadors have been lost over the past 5 years.

For many children and young people with health or disability conditions, support from health professionals and others, such as Educational Psychologists, is crucial. In order to optimise a shrinking resource, a common pattern has been to refocus professional time into capacity building and consultancy.

However, other factors must be taken into account for professionals who deliver their service largely through consultation. While recognising the principle of building capacity in those closest to supporting a child, the impact of this is limited when there is inadequate time and resource for school staff to fully participate and reflect on the benefits of consultation.

This has been consistently highlighted as problematic for the potential for early diagnosis and/or intervention and prevention, including in transition planning between primary and secondary education and for children and young people growing into adulthood.

There is, therefore, a continuing role for targeted assessment, intervention and analysis, which adds value to that which school-based staff are already doing, and further strengthens the impact of consultation.

The example of a refocus of expert capacity into consultation highlights the challenge of strategic and service review and improvement activity as a response to decreasing resources.

There is evidence of very positive continuous improvement and review processes supporting creative and innovative change and development. Headed up by respected leaders, clearly aligned to the key purpose of supporting all children and young people to learn and achieve, and implemented and embedded with their involvement, these processes are valued and supported by frontline staff.

Frontline staff report that where those factors are not evident, the impact of these processes can be stressful and demoralising. The processes are time consuming. If they are perceived to be without benefits to the experience of children and young people, or the professionals involved, they can exacerbate cultures of blame. This again reinforces comments already made about the context of implementation methodology and the key conditions identified as essential.

These same considerations apply to associated activities. For example, sharing and replicating good practice and ensuring impact of high quality and, in principle, well received theoretical and knowledge materials and frameworks. This is especially important where these are primarily available through online learning.

As "inputs" to practice development and learning, their full potential will not be realised without the conditions in place to support that.[39]

Grant Aided Special (GAS) Schools

The GAS schools are independent of local authorities and are funded by the Scottish Government. There are 7 GAS schools in Scotland that provide support to children and young people with complex or multiple additional support needs.

The Review heard that relationships between local authority and the GASS are variable and are affected by the tensions that arise when decisions to place a child or young person in a GASS have become subject to formal adversarial legal processes.

Resource constraints are the evident underpinning issue, but there are other perceptions and concerns, which affect working relationships.

Local authorities vary in their position on the principle of outsourcing and in their views on the quality of GASS provision and the value and additionality of their specialist focus.

There are also strong views on the validity of the central government grant, in principle and in practice.

The GASS have concerns that these perceptions are not based on an informed perspective. This is because they feel contact is mostly in regard to legal processes with little apparent interest or opportunity to develop mutual understanding and positive communication outwith those pressures.

There is also concern that GASS provision is only considered when a child or young person has experienced repeated failure in mainstream or specialist provision. This reduces the impact their specialist expertise can achieve in prevention.

These tensions are not easy to overcome, but the GASS are a resource within the current system, and that resource should be optimised for the benefit of children and young people. That requires a constructive dialogue focused on the needs of children and young people and a willingness by the GASS and the statutory sector to listen and understand the concerns and constraints of each in order to make improvements in process and in practice.

There are similar themes and issues for the National Centres (Scottish Sensory Centre, CALL Scotland and Enquire), which should also be involved in similar processes to support benefits to children and young people.

Recommendation 4.1 Audit Scotland

  • Audit Scotland must use the key themes in this report and the associated findings from Audit Scotland’s audit of educational outcomes to inform the scope of their national performance audit on outcomes for children and young people with additional support needs.
  • This must include assessing spend on additional support for learning across services, its impact on attainment and outcomes for children and young people at all stages; highlighting good practice and gaps.

Recommendation 4.2 Role of Grant Aided Special Schools

  • The Grant Aided Special Schools and three national centres must use the opportunities that arise from the commissioning strand of the Doran Review[40] to consider how their specialist expertise (including in prevention and de-escalation) can be developed to be complementary to statutory mainstream and specialist provision, in order to support improvement in the experiences and outcome of children and young people with additional support needs.



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