Kenny Graham, Head of Education at Falkland House School, writes for Friends of the Scotsman about why all children must be supported to reach their full potential.
Mr Swinney has said he will not progress the consultation on the presumption of mainstream education until after he has taken account of the recommendations of the Education and Skills committee. He will also commission research on the experience of those in mainstream education and this will run concurrently with the mainstreaming guidance consultation.
This seems to be a fair response, but we are no further forward than we were in January 2016 when Alasdair Allan, in an answer to a question posed in Parliament by Mark McDonald, stated that he can certainly confirm to the member that a review of the guidance on the duty to provide mainstream education will take place.
Legislation already states that education be provided within a mainstream school (‘a school other than a special school’) unless it is not suitable for the child, would cause disruption to others or adaptations to the building are too expensive.
Rather than taking time to further amend legislation, we should prioritise the full implementation of current legislation. The problem lies not with the presumption of mainstreaming and the wording of the legislation, but with local authorities working within the spirit of the legislation and the adequate recording, resourcing and training in mainstream schools.
Mr Swinney has said he will continue to make sure that those children and young people who experience barriers to learning get the support that they need, when they need it, wherever they learn.
To do this local authorities must have accurate statistics determining which pupils are identified and recorded as having additional support needs. At the moment there are huge inconsistencies between local authorities in how these statistics are gathered. More robust data will help to ensure that children and young people with Additional Support Needs (ASN) are assessed early and can be equitably supported across Scotland. Early assessment and therefore intervention of children and young people with ASN can prevent further difficulties developing and help to increase their educational and employment outcomes.
There must be greater investment in services that care for and support children and young people with ASN, such as additional support for learning services, social work services, mental health and early years’ services. This will improve educational outcomes, support the closure of the educational attainment gap, and ensure that statutory requirements are fulfilled.
There must be increased investment to reverse staff cuts and deliver adequate staffing levels, supporting those children and young people with ASN in mainstream education. This includes ASN teachers and support staff, for example ASN auxiliaries and behaviour support staff, as well as adequate facilities and equipment provided. A lack of resources sees many children and young people ending up poorly supported or excluded from school altogether, which has an adverse effect on fellow pupils and teachers.
The needs of some children and young people with complex or specific needs are better met in specialist settings. Local authorities must be assisted to increase the number of special school/unit places available, reflecting the rising numbers of children and young people with complex or specific needs. These places may be provided by the local authority or independent sector, on a wider geographic basis.
There needs to be better training of mainstream teachers, social workers, health professionals and other practitioners so that they can adequately support children and young people with ASN. This includes continuing professional development and finding innovative ways of sharing information about children and young people with ASN so that the whole staff team are aware of their needs.
There must be greater partnership working between the public sector and independent and third sector service providers, so that the needs of the child or young person can be properly supported in the most appropriate setting.
What we also call for is a greater understanding of inclusion. Mainstreaming should not simply mean entering the gates of a local school. It should mean inclusion in the aspiration of a mainstream curriculum with all the positive experiences and outcomes that should entail, regardless of where that school is. It should mean inclusion in a school community that supports real development and growth, not education in a segregated class with alternate break times. It should mean good mental and emotional well-being.
Kenny Graham is Head of Education at Falkland House School, member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition.