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Coalition urges action as figures highlight a more than 50 per cent drop in legal support for children with complex needs

An alliance of leading providers of services to vulnerable children and young people has called on the Scottish Government to ensure that those with complex and high-level needs receive the support they are legally entitled to.

The call from the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), which campaigns to improve services for these children and young people, comes as the latest statistics highlight a dramatic decline in the number of children with additional support needs (ASN), such as autism, dyslexia and ADHD, receiving a so-called co-ordinated support plan (CSP).

Despite a Scottish Government promise that there would be no reduction in the proportion of pupils receiving them since their introduction in 2004, there has been a significant fall in the number of pupils with CSPs, from 3,448 in 2012 to 1,534 in 2020, amounting to a drop of 55.5 per cent (publicly funded primary, secondary and special schools). This is a reduction from 2.9 per cent to 0.7 per cent of those with ASN and currently amounts to 0.2 per cent of the pupil population.

This is against the background of an almost doubling in the number of those with ASN from 118,034 in 2012 to 226,838 pupils in 2020, amounting to 32.3 per cent of pupils.

In May 2019, the Scottish Government announced that it will review the use of CSPs, which the SCSC had also called for, but despite this being more than 18 months ago, this has yet to be published.

A CSP is a legal document, the only education plans that are legal documents, requiring services such as education, health and social work to work together to give a child or young person the support they need. It provides some guarantees of entitlement to additional resources and legal redress, placing statutory duties on local authorities to review and ensure the provisions contained within it are being met.

While those with ASN come disproportionately from the most deprived neighbourhoods, they have a lower proportion receiving a CSP when compared with those from the least deprived neighbourhoods.  

This raises concerns that those from deprived communities who are entitled to a CSP are not receiving this required legal support, leading to a widening of the educational attainment gap.

Local authorities are more reluctant to provide a CSP than previously, viewing them as cumbersome and time-consuming. They instead prefer to use other types of plans, such as Child Plans, which are not legally enforceable. Many local authorities are now not providing them unless the parents or carers request them. This has been reinforced by the impact of COVID-19 and cuts in health, education and social work services, meaning that authorities are reluctant to provide such support.

Parents and carers on the other hand believe statutory plans are important to ensure the needs of children and young people are properly recorded and reviewed.

The figures are in stark contrast with England where the number of those receiving an education, health and care plan (EHCP), the CSP equivalent, is 3.3 per cent of the pupil population, fifteen times the rate of that in Scotland and is on the increase and amounts to 27.3 per cent of those with special education needs (SEN).

This is an important difference between the countries. While more than a quarter of SEN pupils in England have a statutory support plan, less than one per cent of ASN pupils in Scotland have equivalent legislative protection.

The SCSC has called on the Scottish Government to urgently publish its review and, working with local authorities, ensure that those children and young people requiring it receive the legislative support they both require and deserve.

A spokesperson for the SCSC commented:

“It is clearly of some concern that we are experiencing a decline in the use of CSPs, which are designed to support those with the most complex needs. This is despite an increase in the numbers of those requiring such support and is in contrast with south of the border where the number of those with the equivalent of a CSP is more than a quarter of those with special educational needs while in Scotland it is less than 1 per cent for those with additional support needs.

“The disparity in those with a CSP between those in the least and most deprived areas is troubling, as if we are to close the educational gap, it is key that we target the resourcing to those in the most deprived communities.

“We are also concerned about the disparities that exist between local authorities on such support, which clearly raises concerns about how such a policy is being implemented and a lack of standardisation of who is identified as having ASN and who get a CSP.

 “It is vital that the Scottish Government urgently publishes its review of CSPs, which has now been ongoing for more than 18 months and working with authorities ensures that those who require a CSP get it, making parents and carers aware of their legal rights.”

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The SCSC is an alliance of leading providers of education, care and support to vulnerable children, young people and their families.