The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), an alliance of leading providers of specialist care and education to vulnerable children and young people, has called for action following a sharp decline in the number of legally-binding education support plans for those with complex or multiple additional support needs (ASN).
So-called co-ordinated support plans (CSPs), prepared by local authorities, are the only education plans that are legal documents. These provide 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.
However, 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 a CSP, from 3,448 in 2012 to 1,420 in 2021, amounting to a drop of 58.9%. This is a reduction from 2.9% to 0.6% of those pupils with ASN, amounting to 0.2% of the pupil population.
This is in contrast with England where the number of those receiving an education, health and care plan (EHCP), the CSP equivalent, is 3.7% of the pupil population. Amounting to more than 18 times the rate of the percentage of those receiving a CSP in Scotland, this figure is on the increase.
A concern raised by the coalition is that local authorities are reluctant to issue CSPs because they are seen as cumbersome and time-consuming, as well as being resource-intensive and subject to enhanced scrutiny. Being legally enforceable, with legal action taken if the needs of the child or young person are not believed to have been met, is also another cause of this reluctance to issue.
This is all set against the backdrop of a lack of resources to support adequate CSP provision, with non-statutory alternatives often being offered in their place.
The sharp fall in the number of CSPs contrasts with a dramatic increase in the number of pupils with ASN, such as autism, dyslexia and mental health problems. In 2021 this reached a record high of 232,753. This represents 33.0% of the pupil population, rising from 118,011 in 2012, and is a near doubling (97.2%) in numbers from that year.
The coalition has called for an expansion in access to CSPs, with the Scottish Government, local authorities, health and other relevant agencies collaborating more effectively to ensure that those requiring such a legal plan receive one. This needs to be supported by the necessary resourcing and increased awareness and understanding of CSPs by families/carers and professionals.
A spokesperson for the SCSC commented:
“We are calling for action following figures highlighting there has been a decline in the use of CSPs, which are designed to support those with the most complex needs. This is despite a Scottish Government assurance that they would not decline and against the backdrop of a dramatic increase in the numbers of those with ASN.
“By not providing this legally enforceable provision, many of these vulnerable individuals are being failed and not getting the support they are entitled to. This is of particular significance given the devastating impact of Covid-19. The Scottish Government, local authorities and other agencies need to collaborate to ensure that those requiring a CSP receive it, with the necessary resourcing in place to support this.
“With those with ASN drawn disproportionately from poorer neighbourhoods, if we are to genuinely close the educational attainment gap they must get the care and support they need, when they need it.”