Notes of the Discussion Group on the Education of Children and Young People with Additional Support Needs

NATIONAL PARENTS FORUM FOR SCOTLAND:

CONFERENCE: CURRICULUM FOR EXCELLENCE – ONE YEAR ON: 1 OCTOBER 2011

Notes of the Discussion Group on the Education of Children and Young People with Additional Support Needs

A number of parents and representative from a number of organisation s took part n the discussion group.

2. The Context of the Discussion

The National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS) member welcomed members to the discussion group and indicated the importance that the Forum attached to the education of children and young people with additional support needs. The NPFS gives priority to representing parents on relevant national groups, advice such as the Additional Support for Learning Implementation Group.

The members then introduced themselves indicating their particular professional and personal interests in the area of Additional Support Needs.  Some of the group members also contributed from their experiences as parents of young people with additional support needs.

All members of the group welcomed the opportunity to have a two hour session to discuss together, capsule learn from each other and raise issues relevant to the Parents’ Forum and their own sphere of work and influence.

2. Tasks for the Discussion Group

Prior to the meeting, members of the group were each asked to consider:

  • One issue which seems to be working well for parents of children with additional support needs;
  • One issue that can made a difference to meeting the needs of children and young people with additional support needs
  • The implications of Curriculum for Excellence and what it means for parents and children with additional support needs.

These three tasks provided a good starting point.  Inevitably while much good or excellent practice was identified, the challenges lay in discussing what could be done to ensure that good practice is spread and difficulties addressed.

3. Issues Discussed

3.1 Achieving the best possible outcomes for children and young people with additional support needs

Central to our discussion was how to achieve the best possible outcomes in terms of the all round development of each child and young person with additional support needs.  Members stressed the need for everybody to share such a vision.  There were many examples of high quality educational provision and services which were supported and enhanced by a number of national bodies, which promoted and disseminated research and new approaches, provided staff development and support for parents and carers.  However, group members were aware that some children and young people with additional support needs and their families were not receiving high quality education and support services.   Indeed, in some instances, inappropriate experiences in school could acerbate or cause the additional support needs of a child or young person.  The challenge for Scotland is to have every school, whether mainstream or special, along with partner agencies, provide high quality services in order to achieve the best possible outcomes for children and young people with additional support needs and their families.

3.2 The opportunities offered by Curriculum for Excellence to improve education for children and young people with additional support needs

Group members agreed that the framework of Curriculum for Excellence with its four outcomes were offering many opportunities for improving education for children and young people with additional support needs in an inclusive way.  The emphasis given to Health and Wellbeing was particularly helpful.  Some further work was needed to address the issues of the extent to which the learning outcomes at the early stage were wholly relevant to children and young people who functioned at developmental levels below 2 years.

Given that many children and young people with additional support needs progress best when the family is able to back up the educational programme at home and vice versa, it is important that schools have effective methods in place for explaining the curriculum and the tailored programme for a child or young person.

Education Scotland, education authorities and schools, working with partner agencies, should continue to develop Curriculum for Excellence in order to provide tailored progressive programmes for children and young people across the range of additional support needs.  Parents/carers of children and young people with additional support needs need to be informed about and participate in implementing educational programmes for their child.

3.3 The importance of communication and constructive relationships between schools and educational services and parents and carers

The most frequently recurring theme throughout the discussion was the need for open and constructive communication and relationships between home and school in respect of each child or young person with additional support needs.  One member reported that the most consistent matter raised by parents though their organisation’s Helpline related to lack of communication with schools.  All of those present referred to examples of problems arising from a failure to communicate, one sided communication such as staff not listening to parents, or inability of parties to understand the viewpoint of the other.  Sometimes, even when a system of review meeting was in place communication could be poor and, at worst, traumatic for parents/carers.  The most effective communicators in schools were headteachers and teachers who were open and skilled in engaging with people, listened attentively and were clear about what the points they wished to make while demonstrating their concern for the child or young person and understanding of their needs and how they may be met. Members of the group would like to see more emphasis on training teachers in the so called ‘soft skills’ through initial teachers education and continuing professional development and a requirement for aspiring or new headteachers to undertake staff development in communication, mediation and negotiation.There were numerous examples of positive examples of communication. One parent provided an example of very good communication where staff in an authority and staff in a school made the case  that a young person would do well in a particular school and then backed it up with  appropriate support.  This resulted in the young person being in   a better position to transfer to secondary school.  Another parent described the work she was involved in with a specialist , providing , vital information related to the education of children and young people with additional support needs.

Many of the members of the discussion groups reported that parents and carers were still finding it difficult to obtain information about educational and other services in relation to their own child, despite the legislation requiring education authorities and schools making information available.  Group members understood how difficult it was to put in place systems which ensured that parents/carers and young people have access to the form of information they require at the time that they require it. Given the range and complexity of conditions which created barriers to learning, there needs to be a network of services to which people could be referred.   Organisations such as Enquire and Call and numerous charities covering a range of disabilities all had their part to play, as did education authorities and their partner agencies.  There needed to be plenty of ways of accessing information, including links from key sites, such as the Parents’ Forum.

Concern was expressed that some education authorities had set up systems and arrangements for additional support for learning but did not have officers who were well informed and really understood the issues involved.

With regard to the Code of Practice the group  welcomed suggestions as to how it could be made  more accessible to parents and carers as well as to professionals involved with children and young people with additional support needs.

Members of the group appreciated that each had a part to play in disseminating information and appreciated the role of the National Parents Forum promoting open communication.

3.4 Inclusion: definition and challenges

Another recurring theme during the discussion was what exactly is meant by the word, inclusion.  The group members agreed that, in some instances, the term had been too narrowly defined as referring to whether a child or young person attended a mainstream or a special school.  Inclusion carried with it a rights agenda, particularly the right to education which ‘is directed to the development of the personality, talents and mental and physical abilities of the child or young person to their fullest potential’ as laid down in the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000.  To be included also carried a powerful social agenda allowing each person to participate in the total life of a school or community, to be respected, listened to and valued.

Members had no difficulty in identifying factors which contributed to successful inclusion.  Inclusive education systems and establishments:

  • had a clear vision of all aspects of inclusion and had in place measures to make that vision a reality;
  • all members of staff, including non-teaching staff believed in the principles of inclusion and demonstrated this belief throughout the day; and
  • the establishment encouraged all of its pupils to value difference and diversity, show respect and combat any form of bullying and discrimination.

Some members pointed to the advantages of some of the new school buildings in promoting inclusion.  It was often impossible for the visitor to see any difference between the specialist provision and the mainstream provision where the establishments were housed near or in the same buildings.

Provision for additional support for learning in Perth and Kinross was identified as being particularly good, several members referring to the success in Perth Academy which was being featured in a workshop at this conference.  This authority was an example of successful practice in inclusion because it was promoted by the Council as a whole, had strong leadership from Education and Children Services which promoted, in turn, strong leadership and commitment to inclusion in schools and other educational services.

The members agreed that the structure and organisation of nursery and primary schools often supported inclusion more easily than those of secondary schools.  Some members referred to the dangers in some secondary schools of regarding responsibility for children and young people with additional support needs as residing in the learning support department and the additional support for learning co-ordinator.  Where secondary school had a senior management team committed to inclusion and a strong health and wellbeing network, thinking and practice in inclusion were likely to be positive and promote the responsibilities of all teachers for all pupils in their classes.

While holding the view that all teachers should be engaged in meeting the needs of all pupils in their classes, members of the group recognised that this could be very difficult, even at times impossible, when the teacher did not have the training, resources or support to address the highly specialist needs of a particular pupil or groups of pupils.  Teachers should be in a position to take such concerns to promoted staff who in turn should be able to evaluate what actions are needed.  All authorities have staged intervention policies which should guide schools on when to seek support outside their own resources.

The members of the group recognised that Scotland still has a great deal to do in supporting the inclusion, and preventing the exclusion, of children and young people who are bullied, looked after at home or away from home, have had fragmented and disruptive education, have mental health problems and other issues creating barriers to learning such as young carers.  One member of the group described the   the long term effects on an individual of having been bullied at school as a consequence of which they had gaps in their education adversely affecting their self-esteem and employment prospects.

Group members agreed that work needed to continue on promoting an understanding of, and disseminating, high quality practice in inclusion.

3.5 The importance of high quality assessment, educational planning and implementation of plans

Parents and practitioners were agreed that effective provision for children and young people with additional support needs depends on accurate and up-to-date assessment of the strengths, disabilities and needs of each child or young person.  The contributions of parents/carers, the child or young person and the various professionals must be integrated to give a holistic picture.  A profile of strengths and needs then leads to identifying long term aspirations and short term goals.  Well judged consideration of desired long-term outcomes supported progressive and coherent learning programmes rather than the cabaret of experiences which sometimes dominated the education of children and young people with additional support needs.  Having set out long-term outcomes, a pathway of shorter term outcomes is laid down.  Well conducted review meetings allow parents/carers, practitioners and the child or young person, as appropriate, to review progress and plan next steps.  The parent members stressed the importance of genuine collaboration among professionals and with themselves and gave examples of some very poor experiences they had undergone.

High quality assessment should lead to the identification of the human and material resources required to provide essential support.  This often involved specialist training for staff directly involved with the child or young person.  The correct technological equipment and use of that equipment helped many children and young people with additional support needs. The role that particular organisations  played in helping to identify technological solutions, advising on use and training staff, parents and pupils was described.  As pieces of equipment for communication could be very expensive, for example in excess of £12,000,    an equipment loan bank had been set up.

The group was of the view that work needed to continue on improving long-term and short-term assessment, planning and review for children and young people with additional support needs.

3.6 Access to expertise

Schools working with local authority advisers and educational psychologists are able to respond appropriately to the majority of pupils with additional support needs.  However, the conditions of some children and young people create barriers to learning which can be addressed only with specialist input, sometime on a consultancy basis, sometimes through regular direct input.  Access to this expertise should be immediate or otherwise children and young people will lose valuable time in education and have learning difficulties further exacerbated.  Members of the discussion group expressed some concern about the reduction in specialist training for teachers in specific aspects of additional support needs.

Members of the group recognised that in some instances some children and young people needed more intensive specialist input and an environment which could not be provided in mainstream classrooms.  Such specialist input may be required on a short-term basis and, in exceptional circumstances, long-term.

The group recognised the importance of expertise related to specific barriers giving rise to additional support needs and the need to ensure that such expertise is extended and replaces when staff retire or move out of the field.

3.7 The importance of strong, committed and informed leadership

A third theme recurring theme throughout the discussion related to the role of headteachers and school senior management teams in ensuring the best possible outcomes for children and young people with additional support needs and their families.  Successful leaders create an ethos of inclusion and success for all by explaining and disseminating their principles and use an effective management framework to ensure that the vision is embedded in practice.  Such leaders also need to be able to communicate with parents and the wider community and listen to, understand and respond to concerns.  In turn the leaders needed to feel that they are supported by education authority staff and partner agencies as well as by parents/carers and the community.  Parents/carers of children and young people with additional support needs have a role in working with other parents/carers in supporting schools as well as challenging establishments to give of their best.

3.8 Preparing for and supporting the transition of children and young people for next states in education

The group ran out of time and could not discuss this issue fully.  However, members wished to record this as an issue as arrangements for transition are vital to ensure continuity of support and prevent children or young people from falling back.

3.9 Giving a voice to children and young people with additional support needs

Although not fully discussed, at various points in the discussion members raised concern that schools and even parents/carers did not involve children and young people with additional support needs sufficiently in making decisions which affected them.