Information

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: https://www.gov.scot/isbn/9781839608254, Young people’s version: https://childreninscotland.org.uk/asl-review/


Summary and Recommendations

Overview

There are many dedicated, skilled and inspiring professionals who care deeply about children and young people with additional support needs. They are doing everything they can to support them to flourish and fulfil their potential in a delivery environment which makes that extremely difficult. Their commitment, in the face of that, deserves recognition and appreciation.

However, the evidence that emerges from this Review affirms that Additional Support for Learning is not visible or equally valued within Scotland's Education system. Consequently, the implementation of Additional Support for Learning legislation is over-dependent on committed individuals, is fragmented, inconsistent and is not ensuring that all children and young people who need additional support are being supported to flourish and fulfil their potential.

There is no fundamental deficit in the principle and policy intention of the Additional Support for Learning legislation and the substantial guidance accompanying it. The challenge is in translating that intention into thousands of individual responses for individual children and young people facing different learning barriers in different family, home, community, nursery, school and college situations.

There has been a significant increase in the number of children and young people identified as having additional support needs, initially caused by a change in recording in 2010[62] and continuing to increase year on year to 2018.) The complexity of needs has also increased due to a range of factors that create barriers to learning.[63]

These factors affect children and young people in all parts of their lives, not just during the time they are in education.

In that regard, there has been a significant increase in children and young people identified as having an additional support need due to social, emotional and behavioural issues coinciding with an increase in poverty and inequality.[64]

At the same time, austerity has put significant pressure on resources in all parts of the public sector.

That combination, of significantly increased need and static or reduced resources, is clearly the most powerful driver in shaping the current reality of implementation.

At the time of writing this report, the most recent figures (2018) show that 30.9%[65] of children and young people in schools in Scotland have an additional support need. That statistic highlights that this cannot continue to be viewed as a minority area of interest, to be considered in a separate silo within the framework of Scottish Education.

Education authorities have lead implementation responsibility and yet the language of the legislation is Learning for Life. This encompasses a much wider perspective than education alone. However, that breadth of vision is not yet realised. Other agencies are not playing as full a role as intended by the legislation, not least due to increased thresholds for service access, due to austerity.

The negative impact of increased need and static or reduced resources is compounded in how Additional Support for Learning works in practice by other strongly influential factors:

1. The dominance of attainment and qualification results as the measure for success in Scotland's Education system, and the focus on that in political discourse. This devalues and demoralises children and young people who learn and achieve in other ways, and it devalues and demoralises the staff who work with them.

2. 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. However, frontline staff report that where those factors are not evident, the impact of these processes is stressful, demoralising, time consuming and without benefit to the experience of children and young people or the professionals involved.

To again reiterate, the key conditions identified by frontline staff, which enable them to effectively fulfil their role in implementing the legislation, are:

  • Values driven leadership
  • An open and robust culture of communication, support and challenge underpinned by trust, respect and positive relationships
  • Resource alignment, including time for communication and planning processes
  • Methodology for delivery of knowledge learning and practice development, which incorporates time for coaching, mentoring, reflection and embedding into practice.

The evidence does not support the assumption that all individual professionals are signed up to the principles of inclusion and the presumption of mainstreaming. Some professionals, who believe in the principles, are disillusioned by not seeing delivery in practice. Others express a core belief that their role should only be to teach children and young people capable of learning within traditional academic standards.

The Review was consistently told by committed professionals at operational and senior leadership levels that Additional Support for Learning is viewed by many of their colleagues as "Somebody else's problem" and "not their responsibility".

Where this mind-set is dominant, children, young people and their families are not always treated with the respect and values that underpin the principles of inclusion and the presumption of mainstreaming.

These points reinforce the critical need for an underpinning leadership ethos, and delivery culture, of support and challenge. The crucial conditions for that are accountability, visibility, monitoring and measurement, which enable a mature and clear understanding of the challenges, however considerable these may be.

Visibility

At school and education authority levels, the challenges, in relation to additional support needs and provision, are consuming significant amounts of time and energy; too often as a result of intensive informal or formal adversarial processes. At a national, strategic policy level, the issue has not been visible in the way it needs to be, which reinforces the persistent lack of value we place on children and young people who have an additional support need.

At broader policy and political level, competition for recognition, due to resource constraints, is driving a focus on specific conditions or needs groups within Additional Support for Learning.

Focus on individual children and young people, and on specific conditions, obscures the more fundamental question of what a child focused education (and other public service) system, with 30.9% of children and young people with an additional support need, looks like and the absolutely critical issue of the workforce needed for that landscape.

One review contributor notes (and this language was frequently heard): Inclusion is not a Department. Schools need to be ready for children and young people as they are, not as we think they should be…And there is a fantasy that someone out there can fix things….Sprinkle magic dust and make the challenges go away"

Currently, the visibility of individual children and young people, and their conditions, relies on the determined advocacy of parents and carers or representational groups. This reinforces the competition between children and young people, and conditions, for attention and resources.

Consequently, whole groupings[66] identified in the additional support for learning legislation are invisible and have been completely overlooked. Also, it is important to be aware that those children and young people who do not express their needs and feelings openly, suffer the same distress as those who are unable to contain them.

It is essential to stress that these comments are not criticisms. Children, young people, their families and committed members of the workforce already feel devalued. There is no value in increasing these feelings. The landscape described is symptomatic of the challenges to implementation – not the cause of the problems

The pressures in the system and the lack of visibility is also increasing stigma, exclusion and inequality within Additional Support for Learning. There is evidence of developing perceptions around children and young people who are viewed as either more or less "deserving" of attention and support. This is particularly noticeable in language around many of the children and young people with social, emotional or behavioural needs whose parents are perceived and described as "inadequate" or just "bad".

Key Processes

At operational level, these underpinning factors, which are combining to constrain or prevent effective implementation of the Additional Support for Learning legislation, are evident in the distortion of the very processes intended to widen access, through early and increased identification, planning and decision making.

These processes are too often being deployed as mechanisms for prioritising need in order to ration scarce resources. A very common example is where a diagnosis is required in order to access support services. Another is where individual planning processes result in a plan – but not the support actions the plan identifies as necessary.

In regard to those planning processes, there is considerable disappointment and scepticism about how GIRFEC[67] is operating for children and young people with additional support needs. This adds to significant confusion and frustration amongst professionals and families about when Coordinated Support Plans should be initiated as part of legal entitlement.

That confusion and misunderstanding is exacerbated by a widespread lack of understanding of relevant rights.

Parents and Carers

Hundreds of parents and carers told their individual, but common story to the Review. The key features were:

  • Hope and belief that a request for help to a public service would be responded to;
  • frustration with lack of information and restricted communication;
  • hurt and anger at being ignored or dismissed; and
  • loss of confidence and trust.

This was as true of parents who are also professionals within education or other public services.

Hence, the language heard from hundreds of parents and carers by the Review of "fighting and battles."

Meanwhile, school staff feel under enormous pressure, often feeling unable to do the job they want. Some described feeling under siege and further devalued. At the same time, staff whose attitudes are not aligned to the principles and values of inclusion have their attitudes reinforced and justified.

Hence, the system level tensions become channelled into the reality of implementation for individual children and young people, their families and the staff closest to them.

It is not surprising that relationships become fraught and trust is lost on both sides – subsequently it is often hard to regain.

In summary, the key conditions for effective implementation of the legislation including resource alignment, active measurement for visibility and improvement, and aligned workforce development are not currently in place. These are the crucial processes identified by Implementation Methodology for developing and improving complex services in complex environments.

Equally relevant are the crucial elements of learning from the developing influence of the "Kindness Agenda" on Scotland's national public service policy development.

That work confirms that the barriers to successful implementation are organisational cultures of risk aversion, blame and a drive to hit targets, which are not meaningful for those with additional support needs.

Most significantly, the Kindness Agenda emphasises the importance of recognising and supporting positive relationships "Relational rather than Transactional"; meaning relationships first and processes second.

That is confirmed by so much of what the Review has heard and in the answers to the question "If things were difficult then got better what was it that changed?

Without exception responses were framed in the language of : "she/he listened" "she/he cared" " she/ he just gets it" That applies to professionals commenting on management and leadership as well as children, young people, their families and staff who they have contact with.

Overall, the Review has found that there are disconnects and contradictions between what is stated as intention and expectation, the (mis)alignment of key processes at all levels of the system and the actual experience of children and young people, their families and those working most closely with them.

Recommendations

The following package of interlinked and co-dependent recommendations are not a quick fix. They need to challenge and cause discomfort but if the will is there, they are the starting point for creating a real grounding for the environment needed for all our children and young people to learn and flourish whatever their needs are.

Visible leadership to drive momentum for change and to maintain the visibility of children and young people who have additional support needs in public life is essential.

Equally important is the imperative that at all levels, those that lead the change stay grounded by continually testing the gap between intention and reality through listening to the people who are at the heart of implementation: Children and young people, parents and carers, school staff and professionals.

That feedback loop must be embedded to close the current gap between intention and reality in the implementation of the additional support for learning legislation, thus fully enabling the inclusion of all children and young people who face barriers to achieving their potential.

Where possible these recommendations have been developed in partnership with key stakeholders. In support of that, the Chair has engaged with the Additional Support for Learning Implementation Group throughout this process.

Should these recommendations be accepted then the Additional Support for Learning Implementation Group will support and oversee the progress made against them.

Children and young people participation

Overarching Recommendation:

Children and Young People Participation Children and young people must be listened to and involved in all decision making relating to additional support for learning. Co-creation and collaboration with children, young people and their families will support more coherent, inclusive and all-encompassing policy making, which improves implementation, impact and experience.

Theme 1: Vision and visibility

Recommendation 1.1 Vision statement

  • A national, overarching Vision Statement for success for children and young people who have additional support needs must be developed by the end of 2020, with the full involvement of children and young people.
  • This vision statement must be developed alongside a positive public communication plan that highlights the range of conditions and issues identified in the additional support for learning legislation. This will be one of the ways in which the profile of additional support for learning is raised to ensure equity for all children and young people.
  • The achievements and successes of children and young people with additional support needs must be celebrated publicly, in equivalence to attainment and exam results.
  • The language used to describe children and young people with additional support needs, and the services that support them, must be changed. It should move away from describing children and young people as their condition and should not be solely focused on deficits.[68]

Recommendation 1.2 Measurement

  • A national measurement framework for additional support for learning must be developed to ensure that there is no reduction in aspiration and ambition for all children and young people to achieve to the maximum of their learning potential. The National Improvement Framework must be revised to ensure parity for additional support for learning.
  • This framework must be rooted in improvement methodology and assist in reinforcing a culture of improvement rather than compliance. The main objective of measurement and recording will be to support local improvement rather than comparisons between Authorities.
  • The test measures must recognise that qualifications are not relevant learning objectives for all children and young people and those children and young people are not failures because of that. The Milestones to Support Learners with Complex Additional Support Needs[69], introduced in 2018, along with the Curriculum review are positive reference points and should be taken into account.
  • The measures must value and ensure visibility of the diverse range of achievements, including in vocational learning, that are possible for all children and young people with additional support needs and reflect what they and their families feel are important for their (future) quality of life.
  • The investment in Pupil Support Assistants must be measured for impact and improvement on children and young people's experiences and achievements. Local authority and school managers must plan a strategy to review the deployment of Pupil Support Assistants, which takes account of recommendations from the current national research Education Endowment Fund (2018).[70]
  • A plan must be developed and implemented to test how the National Performance Framework can be expanded to include achievement measures that go beyond the current narrow parameters of attainment and qualifications (based on the National Performance Framework values).

Theme 2: Mainstreaming and inclusion

Recommendation 2.1 Integration of additional support for learning into the Independent Review of Curriculum for Excellence

  • The Independent Review of Curriculum for Excellence must fully integrate the findings of this Review and focus on all children, affording equity to those with additional support needs.
  • To fully achieve this, the Independent Review of Curriculum for Excellence must maintain a strong and central focus on the experience of all children, young people, parents and carers and the professionals in closest connection with them.

Recommendation 2.2. The Scottish Education Council

  • The work of the Scottish Education Council must be informed by the findings of this Review.

Theme 3: Maintaining focus, but overcoming fragmentation

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.

Theme 4: Resources

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[71] 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.

Theme 5: Workforce Development and support

Recommendation 5.1 Teacher Education and Development

Teacher recruitment, selection, education and professional development and learning processes must align with the changed and changing profile of children and young people in Scotland, ensuring:

  • All teachers hold and enact professional values of inclusion and inclusive practice and see this as a core part of their role.[72] (Codes of Conduct/Standards)
  • All teachers understand what additional support needs are. They are clear about their role in supporting the identification of additional support needs and the need to adapt their teaching to ensure a meaningful learning experience for all their learners.
  • All teacher education and development includes nationally specified practice and skills development in supporting learners with additional support needs, as a core element.
  • Practice learning and development at local level must include where and how to access specialists' expertise and support.
  • Communication, relationship building and positive mediation skills development are incorporated and embedded into teacher education and development, supported by coaching and mentoring opportunities.
  • Parity of career progression, pathway structures and opportunities for specialist teachers of Additional Support for Learning:
    • There should be a first teaching qualification in additional support needs available during Initial Teacher Education; and
    • The career path proposal under consideration by the SNCT[73] to develop new career pathways[74] should have an additional strand for Additional Support for Learning.
  • The focus and methods for teacher education and practice learning are directly informed and developed by the feedback of teachers.
  • Innovative and partnership approaches to practice learning should be developed including delivery and participation of children, young people, parents and carers.

Recommendation 5.2 Pupil Support Assistants

  • The Classroom Support Staff working group must, as part of their work, undertake a review of roles and remit of Pupil Support Assistants. This must include the development of clear specifications for how classroom teacher and pupil support assistant roles interact and complement each other. It must also consider standards of practice, learning pathways, career progression routes and remuneration.

Theme 6: Relationships between schools and parents

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 be 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.

Theme 7: Relationships and behaviour

Recommendation 7.1 Relationships and Behaviour

  • The remit of the Scottish Advisory Group on Relationships and Behaviour in Schools (SAGRABIS) must be reviewed and widened to bring it up to date and in line with emerging knowledge and recommended practices, including the findings of this Review. The membership of the group must be reviewed in line with the refreshed remit.
  • SAGRABIS should have a primary focus on relationships and behaviour, but also the ability to focus on wider additional support for learning issues, developing improvement priorities and ensuring those priorities are reflected at a national, local and regional level. In doing so, SAGRABIS must ensure they work closely with the Additional Support for Learning Implementation Group.

Theme 8: Understanding Rights

Recommendation 8.1 Rights

  • The incorporation of UNCRC, and its impact on Additional Support for Learning legislation and processes, must be fully anticipated and planned for to ensure children’s rights are embedded and effectively underpin the implementation of the Additional Support for Learning legislation.

Recommendation 8.2 Coordinated Support Plan Review

  • The planned review of Coordinated Support Plans (CSPs) must take the findings of this Review into account.
  • Also, it must consider:
    • planning mechanisms within a whole life perspective for children and young people with lifelong conditions, including transitions between and beyond education settings;
    • clarifying the interaction between CSPs, child’s plan and GIRFEC;
    • the relationship between education and partners in health, social work and other agencies to identify where re-alignment is needed in the preparation and delivery of support; and
    • Where improvements are needed in the availability and accessibility of information and guidance about planning, and its processes, for all parents, carers, children and young people.

Theme 9: Assurance mechanism

Recommendation 9.1 Assurance mechanism

  • Following this Review, there must be a mechanism put in place to allow progress against these recommendations to be reported and scrutinised. This should be developed in partnership with the Additional Support for Learning Implementation Group. A progress report should be produced for Scottish Ministers and COSLA one year after the publication of this report and its recommendations.
  • Local authorities must take account of the findings of this report to review and align their quality assurance processes. This must drive improvements in processes, practice and outcomes at all levels in the system.

Recommendation 9.2 Education Scotland

  • Education Scotland must take account of the findings of this report and take action to ensure that their scrutiny frameworks, and inspection activities, are in line with it.
  • Education Scotland must use the findings of this Review, and the conditions identified for good practice, to support and develop improvement in local authorities, regional improvement collaboratives and schools.

Contact

Email: supportinglearners@gov.scot

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