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 6: Relationships between Schools and Parents and Carers

Current policy and guidance affirms the importance of effective working relationships between parents, carers and schools.[45]

There are outstanding examples of exceptional leadership at school and local authority level. These are enabling development of honest and trusting relationships between schools and parents characterised by mutual listening and respect. This provides a solid base for sharing views and airing disagreement without conflict. This offers reassurance that ongoing support is focused on change and improvement, which is focused on the child or young person.

There is also some exceptionally skilful work being done by parents groups to develop and implement supportive approaches to improving relationships with schools.

However, the Review has heard from many parents and carers about their negative experiences of being disregarded, not listened to or blamed for their child's behaviour.[46] They express particular upset at feeling their child is not understood or cared about and is only seen as a problem.

Parents and carers have often emphasised feelings of initial frustration and increasing anger when they are not given information about school or education authority processes or about their or their child's rights.[47]

Overall, the themes raised by parents and carers and the language of fight and battle, summarised from many of the reports noted in the Desk Review, were reiterated in this Review process. Equally, the Review heard the language of parents' and carers' hopes and fears, anxiety and guilt when they felt they were not able to ensure their children were flourishing. Emerging strongly from behind the anger are parents and carers who love their children and want them to be safe, cared for and thrive, to the best of their ability. This is what all parents and carers want.

The most powerful question the Review asked parents and carers to consider was "If you have had a difficult time and then it got better what has made the difference".

The consistent response was that an individual professional has become involved – Pupil Support Assistant, Teacher, Deputy Headteacher, Headteacher, Speech and Language Therapist, someone who demonstrates they care about the child and is non-punitive about their condition and its consequences for learning. This is captured in the phrase: "They just get it". Parents and carers valued that these individuals listened to them and took them seriously, enabling trust to be developed. This allows for far more constructive conversations, even when there is no avoiding the difficulty of those conversations.

Not only that, it also made it less likely that matters would develop into adversarial, formal, stressful and costly processes. The agencies involved in delivery of information and advice, mediation and legal processes all emphasised that through positive communication many situations could have been resolved at a much earlier stage.

The Review also heard from many parents and carers who have had to leave employment because of a lack of support in school for their child's needs, resulting in repeated exclusion – whether formal or informal. Many of these parents expressed the view that if there was investment in supporting children and young people with additional support needs at school, this would be better for Scotland's public finances, both in terms of their own earning potential and the potential for their children to become more independent and less costly for public services in their adulthood. In that regard, there were many examples provided of small, inexpensive, reasonable adjustments that would have made a significant difference to how the child felt and was able to learn at school. Parents and carers were disappointed and frustrated that these were not put in place. They felt this was further evidence that schools do not see them as partners.

The Review heard from many teachers and school staff about the impact of being unable to respond due to resource constraints or of fundamental disagreements about the needs of a child. Parents and carers who feel powerless in the system, might be surprised to hear how powerless teachers and school staff often feel. There were many examples of practitioners feeling upset and stressed at being unable to source expertise and support. That sense of powerlessness included the significant number of parents and carers who contributed to the Review, who are themselves school staff or other public service professionals, with an insight into systems and processes. Despite those insights, these parents and carers reported having no greater success in developing positive communication and involvement in decisions about their children than those without that knowledge.

In the absence of proactively provided, accessible information, in a world of social media, parents and carers at the start of the process are often relying on support from more experienced parents and carers.

The peer support of parents and carers to each other and their information exchange is important and hugely valued. However, comparisons between individual children and young people are not always relevant and this can lead to misunderstandings about rights. Peer support is a valuable complement, but cannot be a substitute for an effective engagement strategy between schools, authorities, parents and carers

Once trust and communications breakdown, they are difficult to regain. There is evidence that beyond the level of individual relationships, a culture of negative expectation about parents and carers has developed as the norm in many schools. This fuels an expectation that all parents will be difficult or unreasonable, their views are not valid and that the best strategy is to restrict information to avoid unreasonable demands.

Improvements can be made despite the impact of austerity and the problematic resource pressures already referenced. At the heart of these improvements must be a willingness to listen and communicate.

In practice, this would mean schools and local authorities recognising the value of the knowledge parents and carers have of their child, at home as well as at school. Parents and carers are as expert in their own lives as children and young people are in theirs, and that should be valued and respected.

However, being listened to and taken seriously does not, and cannot mean, always having proposed solutions and responses agreed with and supported. As well as differences of view between parents, carers and professionals; parents, carers and children and young people will also disagree. For example, one to one support at school tends to be highly valued as a support by parents and carers. Meanwhile, it can be felt by children and young people as further marking them out and separating them from their peers, which may make them vulnerable to bullying.

Therefore, it is essential that all involved are fully informed about rights and responsibilities in order to develop and strengthen partnership approaches, focused on the best decisions and actions for the child or young person.

Teachers and school staff are the experts in school life and that should be valued and respected.

However, school staff expertise, and teachers' professional identity, is not undermined by a willingness to be open, to listen and to acknowledge that a shared approach with parents and carers is best for the child or young person. This is of significant benefit where the best approach and response to a child or young person is not immediately evident.

Submissions to the Review have demonstrated the value of establishing open and trusting communication, of professionals enabling a vital continuing dialogue with parents, carers, children and young people about what's working and what's not. This is also important for constructive discussions about how to respond to a diagnosis or identification of a condition or barrier. It is not helpful for additional support need categorisations to lead to standardised responses, or interventions, or to reinforce an unhelpful perception that there is an intervention that will "fix" a problem. Rather, the approach requires a dialogue about personalised interpretation, understanding and considered judgements for the child or young person, as an individual.

Where there is trust and mutual respect, disagreement is possible and, at times, necessary. It does not automatically lead to the breakdown of trust and confidence and can, in fact, strengthen the relationship.

However, pressured the environment is, rude, dismissive or abusive behaviour is not acceptable from professionals or parents and carers. The Review heard examples of both.

There is considerable scope for the principles of mediation to be developed as a positive early process to support parent/carer/school partnerships, rather than as a belated crisis response, in the form of one of the mediation services funded as a requirement of the legislation.[48]

The Review heard from school staff that involvement of mediation is often seen as a sign of their individual failure. This view contradicts the evidence base for using mediation processes in public and private sectors alike.

This theme, and final point, highlight again how essential it is to have the key conditions in place for implementation.

Recommendation 6.1 Relationships between schools and parents

  • Schools and local authorities must work in partnership with parents and carers to develop, and deliver, ways of working together that support and promote positive relationships, communication and cooperation.
  • This must include clear pathways on transitions for children and young people with additional support needs, in the context of learning for life, allowing parents, carers, children, young people and professionals to be informed and supported at key transition points.
  • Parents and carers must be involved, as equal partners, in the development of key guidance, to contribute their knowledge and lived experience.
  • Further investment is needed to strengthen support services for families; allowing these services, and the support that they provide, to become embedded.
  • The benefits of the use of mediation must be widely promoted at a national, regional and local level and consideration should be given to how mediation can be developed, through professional learning, to support the workforce.



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