Supporting disabled children, young people and their families: guidance

Guidance to help improve the experiences of disabled children, young people, and their families.


The Scottish Government wants all children and young people to get the support that they need to reach their full learning potential.

In this section you can find out about:

How are we supporting learning for all?

There are legal requirements for Local Authorities to provide adequate education to all children. In addition, the Equality Act requires schools to actively deal with inequality, and to prevent discrimination against people with a disability.

Schools also have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils and provide assistance and services, such as communication tools and support staff. They have duties to develop and publish accessibility strategies to help pupils access to the curriculum, the physical environment and to improve communication with pupils with disabilities.

Education authorities and other agencies also have duties under the Additional Support for Learning Act 2004 to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of their pupils, including those with disabilities. Education authorities can ask other agencies, such as NHS Health Boards and social work services for help in carrying out their duties.

Changes that were made to the Additional Support for Learning Act , which extended the age range of some of the provisions, so that they now cover children aged 12-15, as well as young people and parents. This means that children can now ask for their additional support needs to be identified and planned for; get advice and information about their additional support needs; be part of discussions about the support that they will receive; and access dispute resolution procedures to resolve concerns.

These rights are balanced by safeguards and supported by a new children’s service called: ‘My Rights My Say’ This gives;

  • advice and information about a child’s rights
  • an advocacy service to support children to use their rights;
  • a service that can listen to children’s views and make sure they are heard;
  • legal representation for children that are appealing to the Additional Support Needs Tribunal.

Enquire and Reach will help parents and carers and children to access advice and support.

See the Rights Awareness and Advocacy sections of this site for more information.

Opportunities for All is an explicit commitment to offer a place in learning or training to every 16-19 year old who is not currently in employment, education or training. It requires the post-16 learning system to re-engage young people who are not currently in education, employment or training appropriately with learning or training between their 16th and 20th birthdays and to enable support to be offered to young people more effectively beyond that age. Opportunities for All ensures access for all Scotland’s young people to a range of opportunities, including staying on at school, national training programmes, university and college courses, Activity Agreements and additional opportunities offered through Inspiring Scotland, Community Jobs Scotland and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Jobcentre Plus.    

Information for Parents / Carers

What if I'm not happy with a placement?

Information on all rights and responsibilities are included within the Parent’s Guide to additional support for learning on the Enquire website. This includes information on what to do if you are not happy with your child’s placement. There are a range of mechanisms available under the Additional Support for Learning Act to help resolve disagreements. A factsheet produced by Enquire sets out the various routes for raising concerns.

What about post-school transition?

The Additional Support for Learning legislation has specific provisions about transitions. Where a child or young person is expected to leave school (at the end of primary school or when leaving secondary school) the education authority has to seek and take account of information from the appropriate agencies as thought fit, as well as information about provision which the agency/agencies are likely to make for the child or young person on leaving school. See the transitions section of this site for more information about transitioning to the next stage of life after school.

Who are Educational Psychologists and what is their role?

Educational psychologists work within local authorities, in partnership with families and other professionals, to help children and young people achieve their full potential. Educational psychologists support schools and the local authority to improve all children’s experiences of learning. They use their training in psychology and knowledge of child development to assess difficulties children may be having with their learning. They provide advice and training on how schools might help children to learn and develop.

Answers to common questions about the role of educational psychologists is available from Enquire  

How can my child be supported back to school after an exclusion?

To support the child or young person in the right way and help the transition back to school after an exclusion, it may be necessary to put in place a package of support that could be achieved using a flexible or part time timetable with an agreed timescale for when this will end. Support packages like this should be for a short, agreed period with the aims and conditions around this recorded in any support plan.

Parents should in the first instance raise any concerns with the headteacher, and if they are still dissatisfied, contact the Director of Education at their local authority to ask for a review.

Find out more about in the Rights Awareness section of this site. 

What are equipment and adaptations?

Equipment and adaptations play an important role in health and social care. They can help disabled children and young people to live well in their own home and to have a good quality of life. They help to meet the health, housing, social care and educational needs of disabled children and young people and can help to support independence and control. 

More information about equipment and adaptations can be found in the Health and Social Care and Support section of this site.

Where can I go for more support and information?

Enquire - the national advice and information service for additional support for learning, provides a range of advice and information about parents’ and carers’ rights under additional support for learning, via their website. Their helpline can provide advice tailored to your circumstances, which you can call on: 0345 123 2303 from 9:00am to 4:30pm Monday-Friday. They also have a website called ‘Reach’ - for children and young people.

The Scottish Government gives funding to CALL Scotland to provide innovative and specialist expertise in support of children and young people with additional support needs who need Assistive Technology and/or Augmentative and Alternative Communication to access the curriculum, participate effectively, and fulfil their potential through learning.

See the Health and Social Care and Support and  Inclusive Communication sections of this site for more.

Children unable to attend school due to ill-health

Education authorities are required to make special arrangements for all children and young people who are unable to attend school due to ill health. The requirement to do so is covered by the Standards in Scotland’s Schools. Act 2000 which states that special arrangements should be made for affected children or young people to receive their education at an appropriate place without the requirement to attend school (or another type of educational establishment). This could, for example, mean making arrangements for the child or young person to receive their continuing education at home or within a hospital setting.

We have published  Guidance on the education of children and young people unable to attend school due to ill health. This document provides advice on timescales within which alternative arrangements to school-based education should begin.  

If the period of absence due to ill-health is known or expected to last for longer than 5 days, alternative arrangements for providing continuing education should begin immediately, on the provision that medical assessment permits. If the school or education authority are unsure about the possible length of the period of illness, alternative arrangements for providing education should begin no later than after 15 days of continuous absence, or 20 days of intermittent absence.

Where a child does require education outside of school due to ill health, the child or young person’s own school and the local authority area in which the family lives is normally responsible for making those arrangements. There may be some occasions where the child or young person will be receiving treatment at a hospital outside their family’s ‘home’ local authority area. Where this happens, it is possible that the ‘home’ local authority area will arrange for the local authority area in which the hospital is based to provide out-of-school education to the child or young person through their hospital outreach service.  In these exceptional circumstances families should contact their ‘home’ local authority’s education department to establish what arrangements can be made for their child.

Where can school leavers and students go for advice and information?

For extensive information for school leavers and their options for further development, study or employment please refer to the further and higher education and employment transition sections on this site.

Life Stories - Kibble's Shared Living Foster Care - A Story of Two Brothers

We welcomed Callum* and Stephen* to Kibble’s Shared Living Foster Care in December 2018. Up until this point, the boys had never been in care. In the year previous they’d lost their dad, and much had changed in their young lives. Their mum, two younger sisters (now in kinship care), and the extended family struggled to cope with the loss of their dad.

The brothers were always up to mischief and known to the police. They often took cannabis and other substances to help them cope with their loss. Callum also began to experience suicidal thoughts. When he feels stressed Callum can become aggressive towards his older brother Stephen, hitting him and destroying his belongings. He doesn’t like when Stephen takes ‘hard’ drugs and worries about him dying. Stephen tries to support Callum and look after him, but this isn’t easy when he gets angry and aggressive so quickly.

Initially, the brothers used to abscond regularly from mainstream education in order to see their mum and revisit the places where they used to spend time. By ensuring they had regular access to structured leisure activities that they previously attended this soon stopped.

Shared Living Foster Care has given Callum and Stephen the structure, safety and support more commonly associated with residential school care. Experienced carers and staff have co-ordinated their approach to a learning pathway that focuses on trauma-informed care. They work as a team in the carers’ home, within mainstream schools and alongside other community-based agencies. This has enhanced the capacity and resilience of the carers.

The brothers are retaining their own identity whilst gaining a sense of belonging in an extended professional family that complements and respects their own. Mum along with her sons are building trusting relationships with Kibble’s carers and staff, enabling them to be supported with, amongst many other things, bereavement counselling. Mum used to discuss their dad’s death constantly with the two boys which was reinforcing the trauma they were experiencing and preventing them from moving forward with the grieving process. By offering her the right therapeutic support and an outlet for her grief she doesn’t talk to her sons as much about this.

Stephen is a natural academic, caring and clever. Callum is athletic, becoming more confident and calmer. Both are polite and well-mannered and with the right support networks in place, the boys are beginning to realise their potential.

The Shared Living team, along with colleagues in addiction, education and social services have recognised the excellent progress Callum and Stephen are making. With their mum’s support the boys’ confidence is beginning to grow and they are starting to believe in themselves too.

*Names changed to protect the identity of the young people.


Ross's story

Read Ross's story on the Fairer Scotland blog.  

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