The support saga: a data story

Once upon a time there were a group of wise people who thought all was not well in the world of education.   One day, in 1978, they came together and said some of our children in our schools will require some support at some time. They said that every fifth child in a village, town or city would require support.

A long, long time after the wise people had reported all that they found, a committee of the parliament sat in Edinburgh town. They were worried about an exponential growth in the numbers of boys and girls throughout all the land needing additional support. So they listened to some people and then they listened to some more. But they never thought to look back at the words of the group of wise people from the century before.   For there had been no epidemic of support needs in recent years. All across the hills and lochs of the country, all that had happened was teachers got better at completing a census about support.

In the land of the Scots every year before the leaves shaded from green to brown, the leader in each and every school was commanded to fill out the census of the ScotXed.   Some of the leaders did not like to do this at all, so they got some of their helpers to fill out every box as ordered by the ScotXeders. The saga of the census which took place annually, each and every year told the story who got what in support for learning. The numbers told a new story, a happy one.

The story of the numbers was this: each August about 53,000 children start school and then by the end of June, roughly 53,000 will leave school education. Overall, there will be about 679,000 in Scottish schools. Roundabout the year 2011, teachers were asked to record more information about who got what in terms of additional support and to do that for the next five years.

For half a decade, the teachers in schools got better and better at counting the children with support needs and reached the 1 in 5 level that the wise people had said way back in the last century.

Over the 5 year period of reporting, schools identified more and more of the children and young people getting more and more support. In 2011 this number was 98,523 and by 2015 the count was now 153,190 children and young people across Scotland.   It was only that people (teachers people) had become more sensitive to who needed support and year on year for five years they got better at reporting and recording the information. This was indeed a good thing.

It wasn’t just a matter of that one number, there were lots of numbers. These numbers told a number of different tales in the saga of support.

They told a story of more and more plans for the children in the schools. Over the years of better counting, the total number of plans increased from 49,787 in 2011 to 60,119 plans in 2015. More plans must be a good thing, surely! But it wasn’t just the number of plans, there had been a big change in the types of plans. Down went the number of plans called IEPs, down went plans called CSPs and up and up went the number called child’s plans.  Not many people knew this.

The numbers of IEPs reported decreased from 42,819 in 2011 to 37,168 in 2015. In this time the number of co-ordinated support plans decreased from 3,617 to 2,716.

While somewhat remarkably the number of child’s plans grew, grew, and grew from 3,351 to 20,235. This may well be a very good thing as an IEP usually concerns itself with education while a plan of the child is a more holistic document.

“Plans! Plans! What good are plans?” I hear you say. Plans don’t amount to much unless there are people there in place to not only carry them out but to make sure its good quality support.

In terms of the types of support given to children needing support there were five years of numbers too.

The identified number of children in schools receiving support from specialist learning support teachers had risen from 50,789 in 2011 to 85,471 in 2015. Numbers receiving support from other support for learning staff such as support assistants rose from 36,461 to 71,693.

The reported numbers weren’t just to do with staff in education though, those more holistic plans were supported by other public services. Like Social Work services who increased their level of support from 8,282 to supporting 17,554 children while health service support rises from 14,044 to 30,929 children and young people.

And then it wasn’t just public sector, the third sector were helping too. Through the voluntary sector the recorded numbers receiving support have risen from 1,116 children and young people to 2,526 being supported.

There is even a mysterious “other” form of support that nobody knows what it is but we do know that it has increased from 8,110 in 2011 to 28,676 in 2015. Or so the teachers in each and every school in Scotland are telling us.

The number story wasn’t just being told by teachers. Enquire is the independent advisory service for parents, children and young people with about additional support. They record the numbers of enquiries linked to additional support need issues, many of these are likely to be complaints. In 2011, Enquire received 1,264 enquiries related to additional support. In 2014-15, Enquire received 1,444 enquiries relating to additional support for learning. An increase of 14%. While numbers identified and recorded as receiving support grew from 98, 0000 to 150,000, the number of enquiries increased by 14%.

You might wonder, given better recording of numbers, more and more provision being identified what has happened with numbers using advocacy, mediation, adjudication or the Tribunal? Exponential increase perhaps? Even at the sharp end when parents are fighting for their rights and what they see as best for their children the numbers tell a fuller story.

In 2011, 35 requests were made for independent advocacy, 87 cases using mediation, 18 referrals to the independent adjudication service, 13 Section 70 complaints to Scottish Ministers and 73 referrals to the Tribunal.   In 2015, 75 requests were made for independent advocacy, 156 cases using mediation, 4 referrals to the independent adjudication service, 2 Section 70 complaints to Scottish Ministers and 78 referrals to the Tribunal.

In the five years of annual reporting the number of uses of mediation are as follows

2011 87 cases, in 2012 73 cases, 2013 86 cases, in 2014 134 cases and by 2015 156 cases. This again is a good thing.

There are more numbers that tell further parts of the story – the money numbers! Education budgets like other public sector services have been reduced since 2008. There is a further discussion and debate about those numbers.

This blog has attempted to give a fuller story of what’s happening in our schools as teachers get better at recording information about they do in the schools to support children and young people with additional support needs. In my view the range and quality of work in support in our schools is under recognised and undervalued. If we are truly seeking to improve equity and excellence then the quality of support services are a key resource to support learning and increase achievement.

Will they live happily ever after?

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