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 1: Vision and visibility

A Comprehensive Picture?

There is a lack of understanding, or recognition, of the range of issues and conditions which entitle children and young people to support. This is amongst even those closest to the implementation of the Additional Support for Learning legislation.

The Review considered reasons for that. This report also focuses on common and shared themes and processes rather than on differences or comparisons. This is in line with the key principles of the legislation, which do not distinguish or prioritise between children and young people.

However, the Review has received significant contributions on behalf of the children and young people affected by some of the issues and conditions listed above. It has actively sought to engage with the groups of children and young people who do not have the same profile or strength of group advocacy within additional support for learning.

It is important to incorporate and highlight the key issues of concern for all groups the Review heard from. It is equally important to acknowledge that some voices are weaker or may still be missing.

Annex C presents this information.

This report is the base for a live working document, which should be developed and become part of a continuing communication and awareness raising strategy, noted in the recommendations.

On this theme, it has been reported that there are variations in reporting of needs. While there are broad consistent trends over time in the pupil census data[16], there are factors that contribute to this variation across the country. These include local authorities and schools responding differently to thresholds and moderation issues as the national definition of 'Additional Support Need' allows for wide interpretation.

There are also variations in administrative and technical recording processes for SEEMiS[17] [18] (who does what will vary across schools), and in how SEEMiS data is used at a local level, i.e. its purpose beyond the census of needs.

What is Success?

Scotland does not have a national vision of success for children and young people within the overarching concept of "Learning for Life"; the language of the legislation.

Underpinned by the rights conferred by this legislation the term "Learning for Life" resonates with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Articles 28 and 29, which defines learning as:

"The development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential"[19]

Article 28 (b) notes:

"Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational…"

This is a broad and holistic definition of education, which encompasses a broad and holistic vision of learning.

However, the additional support for learning legislation primarily designates responsibility for its implementation to Education Authorities, limiting the focus of attention and understanding of additional support for learning on education and academic achievement and on the education system.

Under the legislation, Education Authorities can draw on support from other agencies identified in the Act: Health, Social Work and Skills Development Scotland. In that regard the Getting it Right for Every Child[20] (GIRFEC) framework should underpin a holistic vision of children and young people as pupils, as learners in the broader sense and also as individual young citizens, part of their wider community.

The evidence from professionals, parents and carers is that GIRFEC is not consistently driving implementation of the additional support for learning legislation. GIRFEC too often becomes focused on the process of planning, due to restrictions on the capacity to deliver support.

Yet evidence to the Review, particularly on transitions, consistently affirms that a wider view, rooted in the concept of learning for life beyond the educational and academic, is crucial.

That wider view needs to encompass the child or young person's lived experience, 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Their whole life outside the edges of school life into home, family (however, family is constituted or is defined by a child or young person[21]) and community.

The wider view on learning is vital both during the journey through the education system from nursery to college and after that into adulthood. Everyone's childhood experiences affect their lifelong wellbeing and life chances. However, a comprehensive perspective on learning has particular significance for children and young people with lifelong conditions.

Recognising and Measuring Achievement

The most powerful and visible measure of success for Scotland's education system and for the progress of individual children and young people is currently attainment in the form of qualifications. Within the system, some qualifications are valued significantly more highly than others.

All review contributors have affirmed that there must be no reduction in aspiration or ambition for children and young people to flourish and achieve to the best of their abilities, not least in formal qualifications.

However, not all children and young people can make progress and achieve through qualifications.

Collated performance indicators for the education system currently overlook other forms of progress made by many children and young people.

This devalues and demoralises children and young people who learn and achieve in other ways and devalues and demoralises the skilled and committed staff who work with them.

Children and young people for whom exam based qualifications are not aligned to their learning needs and potential are not failures. The Review evidence is consistent that there must be recognition of individual achievement in Learning for Life. This means creating equally valued alternative pathways and ways of measuring individual progress. These must measure the child or young person's achievements and success from their own starting point. At the same time, the skills of professionals supporting those achievements must be made visible and recognised as valuable.

At system level, this picture is reflected in the focus of political dialogue and media attention on exam results and the absence of public celebration of other pathways and achievements.

The limited needs focused language of additional support for learning legislation reinforces the focus on a child or young person's additional support needs as deficits. The embedded implication is of (continuing) cost and burden rather than potential contribution. It overlooks individual interests, ambitions, aspirations and talents as well as love and connection in relationships with family and friends.

The language of deficit reinforces the experience children and young people have of being seen and reacted to as the embodiment of their condition or their problem. Appreciation of how that condition or problem affects them, and feels for them as individuals, is lacking in this approach. This is further stigmatising and excluding. It causes hurt and loneliness for children and young people.

In this context, it is welcome therefore that the First Minister has recently stated:[22]

"Scotland is redefining what it means to be a successful nation by focusing on the broader wellbeing of the population as well as the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the country"

"Putting wellbeing at the heart of our approach means we can focus on a wider set of measures which reflect on things like the health and happiness of citizens as well as economic wealth to create a world that considers the quality of a person's life to be as precious an asset as financial success."

Additionally, in relation to another area of policy, the First Minister has said:

"the system of help, decision-making, support and accountability - must be more supportive and responsive."[23]

These are helpful and timely statements of commitment that resonate with the case for a new approach to recognising, understanding, appreciating and celebrating progress for all children and young people.

The narrow view of learning, the dominant focus on qualifications and the embedded perspective on deficits all underpin the lack of visibility of children and young people in public and political debate on education and more broadly as equal members of our communities and society.

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.[24]

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[25], 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).[26]
  • 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).



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