No wonder Scottish education’s going backward

The recent publication of the Education and Skills committee report marks another interesting step backwards for Scottish education. Offering very much a mixed package it supported mainstreaming but had concerns about inclusion. It questioned the level of resources for additional support needs but was worried about teachers diverting time to children with additional support needs in their class. It was concerned about impact on attainment yet took no account of how inclusive education leads to better achievement of the four capacities. Throughout it assumed that special schools are a major part of the answer yet ignored the voices of young people in special schools who feel they aren’t supported.

In terms of the big picture it lacked any great support for the aspiration of an inclusive Scotland where discrimination is challenged and the segregation of disabled children and people from the mainstream of society is ended.

It was a mixed report. In part it was mixed as it relied on anecdote. For instance the anonymous contributor from Dalkeith campus who suggested there was an “exponential’ rise in additional support needs. The Committee and the anonymous contributor seemed unaware that the Warnock Report from 1978 (so last century I know) said

we recommend that the planning of services for children and young people should be based on the assumption that about one in six children at any time and up to one in five children at some time during their school career will require some form of special educational provision.”

In Scotland in 1994 the EPSEN document from HMI said much the same. In its introduction it stated,

“A proportion of pupils, estimated at around 20%, have learning difficulties which are more intractable, but which respond to measures, such as through the assistance of a learning support specialist and/or some curricular adaptations.”

While the Education and Skills Committee (2017) has it as

“The context for the committee’s analysis of education for children with additional support needs in this report is the “exponential” increase in the recorded incidence of children with additional support needs in recent years to a level beyond many people’s expectations”.

In 1978, it was assumed about an estimated 20% of kids would have support needs, in 1994 in Scotland HMI estimated the proportion as 20% and by 2016 according to the Report to Parliament this has increased (exponentially) to an identified 22.5%.

The Committee should have been asking have our educational services been planned to take account of 22.5% of children having additional support needs. Has this significant improvement in the identification, recording and reporting on children with additional support needs by teachers in every school in Scotland and across all education authorities led to better provision and outcomes?

Relying on anecdote and gathering people’s is one way to gain a view of public services, collating and analysing evidence is another. Scottish education has some very good sources of data and information which would assist any Parliamentary Committee. The source in this instance is called the Annual Report to Parliament on Additional Support for Learning.   In terms of outcomes it provides a picture of improving outcomes but also clear evidence of gaps across the range and types of additional support needs. The annual reports are not referenced in the bibliography. If referenced, they would have found the fact that children with social emotional and behavioural needs attain 20% of the national average a clear attainment gap that should be a national cause for concern.

The Committee might have wanted to look at the attainment of children with additional support needs arising from English as an Additional Language. The annual reports not only indicate that schools and education authorities are getting better at identifying such children and young people but also that they are attaining in line with national averages. In 2015 the OECD commended Scottish education saying “Scottish schools are inclusive” – they highlighted three measures of inclusion – the attainment of migrant children, the social mix of Scottish comprehensive and the performance of rural school being better than urban schools. It’s disappointing that the Committee fails to acknowledge when schools and education authorities in Scotland perform at world-class levels. Just because socially mixed inclusive schools doesn’t fit some people’s dogma we have to continue to knock our schools and authorities on their journey towards an inclusive Scotland.

One final point about evidence gathering, observation is another good source of evidence in addition to people’s views. It is another shame that Committee members visited Dalkeith Community campus, visited the two secondary schools yet didn’t manage to get along to the third school on the Campus – the special school, Satlersgate School. They could have been asking how well the shared campus works to support children’s education and their support needs.

As well as neglecting to visit special schools, the voice of children from special school was neglected. “Included in the Main” a report from Enable similarly ignored their views. The “Included in the Main” report asked young people with additional support needs and their satisfaction with their educational setting

“Only one-third (33%) of young people in mainstream school felt they were getting the right support in school. This is compared with two-thirds (66.67%) for young people who attend mainstream with an ASN base. Interestingly only just over one-third (37.5%) of young people who attend a special school said they felt they were getting the right support at school.

A similar trend was demonstrated throughout various responses. 42% of children in solely mainstream provision thought they were doing well in school. Two-thirds (66.67%) of children who attend mainstream with an ASN base felt they were doing well. Interestingly only 44% of those in Special School felt the same.”

Perhaps that report could have been re-titled “Interestingly, Excluded in the Special”? 😉

There remains a gap between policy aspiration and practice as experienced by children and families of those with additional support needs. The words of parents in the Committee’s report are extremely concerning such as children receiving no education or excluded to part-time timetables (which happens in special schools too). Scotland would have been better served by identifying the gaps in outcomes using data from the annual report to Parliament, seeking greater collaboration across support to better meet the needs of all and reconfiguring the role of special schools towards preventing failure in mainstream as part of new ways to help and assist inclusive education.


Education and Skills Committee report 2017

Warnock Report 1978

Effective Provision for SEN 1994 excerpts


Improving Schools in Scotland (OECD) 2015

Supporting Children’s Learning: Implementation of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004  (2016)






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