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 2: Mainstreaming and inclusion

At political, policy and strategic levels the principles of Inclusion and of the Presumption of Mainstreaming[27] in education are widely and strongly supported.[28]

Inclusion – what does it mean in practice?

The Review has strongly and consistently affirmed that the physical presence of a child or young person who has additional support needs in a mainstream school does not constitute inclusion.

The four principles of the inclusion framework[29] state that for children and young people to be included at school, they must be present, participating, supported and achieving:

"Together, these four features support the delivery of inclusive learning environments for all children and young people that enable them to reach their full potential."[30]

Inclusion means the fullest involvement possible in the life of the school including outwith the classroom; in the playground, on school trips; at sporting and social events; visible as part of the community.

Inclusion encompasses the experience of a pattern of small and large informal and formal interactions and relationships, which combine to create the school community and culture. These things are hard to describe, but are felt by the children, young people and adults who are part of that community. Professionals, parents and carers all consistently commented on the "feel" of a school and the impact of a first visit on their ongoing perception of that school.

In that context, the true measure of inclusion is not through external and objective criteria, it is in the child or young person's own experience and how they feel. Currently, far too many children and young people report feeling isolated, lonely, rejected, sometimes actively disliked or uncared for.

Due to the predominant focus on attainment through qualification, the current emphasis across the Inclusion quadrants is unbalanced with the focus on achieving. A rebalancing across all four quadrants of the Inclusion Framework is required to support implementation of the additional support for learning legislation and is necessary to develop valued and alternative pathways that support the child or young person's experience of inclusion.

The Presumption of Mainstreaming – what does it mean in practice?

The Presumption of Mainstreaming was not part of the Review remit. However, the following perspectives emerged in the open listening process and have been included as part of the Chair's commitment to present a Review report which is credible to the contributors.

With 30.9% of children and young people now identified as having an additional support need, the key question that has emerged is:

What range of educational provision is required and how does it need to be shaped to ensure inclusion of all children and young people?

The concept of "mainstream" needs to be redefined and repositioned for the profile of children and young people as they are now and are projected to be in the future, not as they were in the past.

Nationally there are outstanding examples of mainstream education settings that have stretched and adapted their culture and environments to the benefit of all children and young people. Providing responsive personalised adjustments for individual children and young people matters for all, but is obviously vital to including those with additional support needs

There has also been the welcome development of nurture approaches across schools and local authorities.[31] Nurture is focussed on "wellbeing and relationships and a drive to support the growth and development of children and young people". This approach will be of particular benefit to some children and young people.

Where this approach can work particularly well is when it is used within enhanced provision within mainstream. In such settings, mainstream children and young people are supported on a needs led basis. Children and young people who attend the enhanced provision are all integrated within their mainstream setting. This also allows for relevant discussions to take place with other practitioners to inform planning and support. It encourages flexibility of the curriculum to develop core skills in Literacy, Numeracy and Health and Wellbeing.

Rural areas with dispersed populations and geographical distance challenges have always needed to stretch and develop that approach. Not having capacity to create separate mainstream and specialist provision has advantages when looked at through the lens of inclusion.

However, there are increasing levels of need. This is evident in how children and young people demonstrate their needs though communication and behaviour as well as in levels of diagnosis. There is also increasing complexity of need. Mainstream and, where relevant, special schools units and hubs, report being stretched and under intense pressure as the thresholds between Mainstream and Specialist are now significantly different.

This is particularly so where, not just the numbers, but the range of additional support needs in a classroom require very different responses.

There have been strong concerns expressed that decisions to place in specialist or independent provision too often require a child or young person to fail (sometimes repeatedly) rather than being driven by prevention and early intervention. This causes stress and distress for them, their families, school staff and others involved in direct delivery.

At the beginning of the Review process, the Chair heard the assumption expressed that primary schools are more able to be inclusive and responsive to additional support needs. Whilst the stability of one teacher for a class has been confirmed as often having significant benefits, the Review finding is that primary education is now experiencing the same pressures as secondary.

One consequence of that is how effective the systems and processes are for transition between primary and secondary, a crucial point in any child's education. There are very well considered examples of excellent practice. However, the Review found significant variation with consequent impacts on children and young people and also on staff who were unprepared for the needs of children and young people.

Overall, the Review evidence on the presumption of mainstreaming raises questions for all aspects of design and delivery in education, including for Scotland's curriculum. Whilst the curriculum is designed to enable differentiation in order to most effectively support children and young people to learn, in practice many teachers expressed a range of concerns about how this is operating in practice and their skills and capacity to effectively provide curriculum differentiation.

As children and young people progress through the mainstream system, the consequences of that become particularly significant for children and young people with additional support needs. The intensity and funnelling of focus on qualification achievement in secondary and senior phase reduces the flexibility and capacity for response to support additional needs and support for learning through alternative pathways.

The Review heard a strong view in favour of responsive child centred provision. This requires a system that has flexible and permeable edges. It must be rooted in the ethos of inclusion, rather than constraining and defining children and young people by building locations and a hard edge separation between "mainstream" and "specialist". A minority, but notable opinion was that whilst specialist provision is in place, inclusion would never be achieved because that structure reinforces the view held by those professionals in mainstream provision that additional support for learning is not, or should not, be part of their responsibility.

Another argument made for flexible provision is based on the view that individual and group needs continuously change and develop through childhood and adolescence. Flexibility of edges would therefore (where decision making processes are aligned) enable professionals at, and closest to, the frontline of delivery, to exercise judgement on the complexities of group dynamics and interactions of children and young people with differing barriers or conditions.

This links to a clear and emphatic message heard consistently from many practitioners and professionals. This message is about the key organisational conditions that they need to fulfil their professional ambitions to support all children and young people to learn to the best of their ability. Conditions that also allow for replication of good and best practice – regardless of whether the setting is designated mainstream or specialist.

Supported by implementation methodology[32] those key conditions consistently identified and evidenced in the good practice seen by the Review are:

Key conditions for delivery

  • 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; and
  • Methodology for delivery of knowledge learning and practice development, which incorporates time for coaching, mentoring, reflection and embedding into practice.

Key processes for implementation of Additional Support for Learning – how are they working to support inclusion and the presumption of mainstreaming?

The purpose of the legislation and subsequent amendments[33] was to widen access and ensure all eligible children and young people had their rights to learn upheld.

The Additional support for learning: statutory guidance 2017[34] identifies the Core processes required to achieve that including:

  • Noticing/Identifying;
  • Responding; and
  • Coordinating/Monitoring.

The underpinning ethos is early identification to enable early intervention and prevention.

However, the evidence from respondents is that these key processes have become distorted to manage levels of need and demand.

The legislation makes no distinction between or prioritisation of the barriers faced by children and young people.

However, the guidance on the presumption to provide education in a mainstream setting[35] requires decisions on placing for each eligible child to be taken within two parameters:

  • The requirement to consider the child's needs in balance with the needs of the group of children; and
  • The requirement to consider Best Value for the Local Authority.

These parameters will never be static and the context for individual decisions will always vary.

However, increasing levels of need, their complexity, severity, the nature of expression of needs and resource constraints are intensifying the processes that prioritise children and young people in order to ration limited resources. The consequences of the extended period and impact of austerity on public services are of serious concern.

Processes include the introduction of, or increase in, thresholds for the requirement for a diagnosis before a response is considered, although the needs for support are clearly evident.

Once a threshold has been reached, there is variation in transparency and visibility of resource allocation processes; to professionals and leadership teams, as well as to parents and carers.

For example, in how directly involved school leaders are in decisions on Pupil Support Assistant time allocation and placement decisions or whether these decisions are the sole responsibility of a senior level of management.

A very significant level of energy is being devoted to child planning processes. This complies with process targets[36], but does not necessarily result in active delivery of support. This causes disappointment, frustration and anger for children, young people, and their families and a sense of failure and helplessness for staff.

For committed staff, endeavouring to maintain their professional integrity, the key delivery conditions already noted, are essential. Where openness and transparency are not in place, the risks are of a culture of blame and/or a culture that lacks robust accountability for practice with vulnerable children and young people.

These are significant issues, which are extremely uncomfortable to raise. They must be aired and considered. Not to ascribe fault or blame, but to assist in understanding the fundamental problems that this Review has been established to consider.

One of the consequences of prioritisation and rationing of resources, is that inevitably it results in competition between individual children and young people. It does the same in terms of advocacy bodies for groups of children and young people who fit eligible categories and conditions under the legislation.

There is open agreement across all perspectives that the children and young people who are most likely to be prioritised for resource are those whose parents and carers are able and willing to strongly and persistently advocate on their behalf. These parents and carers often expressed concern for the children and young people whose parents are not in a position to advocate for them.

It was clear that those children and young people whose parents and carers are less able or unable to advocate for them, are clustered in particular groups which are recognised under the Additional Support for Learning Act. Even so, as a result of lacking that individual advocacy, they are routinely overlooked.

In reflecting on these points, it has been notable that professionals, when asked what they would do if they had a child with additional support needs, have consistently responded in the same language as parents and carers: "I would fight for my child"

Despite this, the range of comments from professionals about parents and carers included a strong view – and expectation - that parents and carers are "unreasonable and demanding". This fuels the difficulties in communication and relationships highlighted under a later Theme.

This Review provides an opportunity to propose a reframing of the issue.

Children and young people who are most likely to get the wider support needed to flourish, have the support of strong advocacy of their families. This is a symptom, not the cause of the problem that not all children and young people are flourishing.

Scotland's overall policy on families[37] affirms that the aspiration should be for all parents and carers to be the best advocates for their children. This is, however, not a prerequisite for needs to be met. Public services are expected to be and should be proactive and responsive.

The other factors highlighted in this report clearly mean that is currently not the case.

Alongside the strength of parent and carer advocacy, the other significant factor, which prioritises identification and response in providing support, is in how the child or young person communicates through their behaviour. This is an equally sensitive, uncomfortable, but essential area which needs airing.

As noted, the legislation requires consideration of the child or young person's needs within the group of children's needs. Evidence heard by the Review is that the personal and professional values of professionals are significant factors influencing that judgement and that there is a diversity of views on inclusion as a principle.

It is essential to stress that the resource constraints already referred to are the context for these comments.

Where children and young people communicate distress through behaviour, which impacts on them, on other children and young people, and on adults, there must be support to alleviate that distress. However, the principle of early intervention points to the need for support in creating a culture of anticipation and prevention. Evidence from children and young people provided to this Review, and consistently through similar listening exercises, focuses on relationships and trust as crucial in achieving that – the development of those need time.

Where professionals differ, is on whether that support and response should be within or outwith the classroom setting. Different perspectives will support inclusion or reinforce exclusion – including through informal or formal exclusion from school. These points link closely to those made under the theme on relationships and behaviour.

Respondents have highlighted that children who have an additional support need which does not impact on others are overlooked. Focusing resource on the children and young people who are most visible is often attributed to resource constraints.

Again, it must be emphasised that this is a symptom of the current difficulties, not an underpinning cause.

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 and young people, 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 work of the Scottish Education Council must be informed by the findings of this Review.



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