Complex needs planning that works - Kenny Graham

Published on April 7, 2022

Kenny Graham is the Principal at Falkland House School, a member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition.

Writing in 2018 we appealed to the Scottish Government to look to another of the home nations, Wales, as an example of good practise in supporting the mental health of our nation's children and young people. Since then it has been reassuring to see the commitment shown by the Scottish Government through investment and policy to increase access to counsellors in schools.

Writing in 2022, we are again appealing to the Scottish Government to look to another of our home nations for an answer to a difficulty facing some of our most vulnerable children and young people. We continue to see an increase in the number of children and young people identified as having an additional support need. Despite this, alarmingly we continue to see incredibly low numbers of co-ordinated support plans (CSPs).

This issue had caused such concern that it prompted the Scottish Government to create a Short Life Working Group (SLWG) focusing on CSPs, which published its report in November 2021.

One of the barriers identified in this was the sharing of CSPs with other education support and multi-agency groups, which prompted the observation that we perhaps look to the English system.

In England the principle of graduated support is applied. This is described as a four-part cycle that increases in detail and frequency, to identify what support is required to ensure the child is making adequate progress. This begins with an in-school assessment of needs. Following this a plan is formulated to ensure appropriate support is in place. This leads to the 'do’ phase of the cycle - the implementation of the plan. The fourth part of the cycle is the review. There is however a fundamental difference in the approach taken by England and Scotland.

When in-school approaches are not working in England, the school seeks support from outside professionals which may lead to an education, health and care (EHC) needs assessment, which in turn prompts the creation of an EHC plan. The participation of professionals is a progressive part of the process leading to the creation of the plan. In Scotland the processes are subtly, but significantly different.

The creation of a CSP is governed by a number of very specific criteria - that there be one or more complex need, that they are likely to continue for more than one year and that the needs require the support of one or more agency as well as the education authority. This is where children and families in Scotland can begin to experience challenges in securing a plan. For the creation of a CSP in Scotland there must already be at least one agency in addition to the school involved.

Long waiting lists for specialist services such as occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and child and adult mental health services create an immediate barrier to the creation of a CSP.

In England the EHC needs assessment ‘invites’ the participation of these services, while in Scotland the CSP ‘requires’ it.

This is the subtle though significant difference and one that we urge the Scottish Government to retract as part of its ongoing commitment to delivering excellent outcomes for all children and young people.

This article first appeared in The Scotsman on 7th April 2022.

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