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"There have been too many promises of change, followed by a failure to act."

We need to respond swiftly, effectively and listen to the many testimonies provided during the ASL implementation review, writes Sally Cavers

In June, the report of the review of the implementation of Additional Support for Learning was published. The recommendations, to me, seem well considered and an achievable response to the information gathered by the Review team, alongside the plethora of previous related reports and research.

The introduction of the report notes ‘Scotland has ground breaking, rights widening legislation for children who face additional barriers to learning and to fulfilling their potential.’ Our additional support for learning legislation is more or less universally agreed as sound and outlines what we want for our children and young people. Internationally, we are applauded for our approach.

However, like many others who have been following this legislation and its impact for a long time, I have also seen the increased dissatisfaction about resourcing and inconsistency in its application. In my view, there are four key areas where we can almost immediately change our approach and practice to vastly improve delivery, engagement and outcome.

Children and young people must be listened to in all decision making

During the review process Angela Morgan talked to children and young people, including some of the network of Inclusion Ambassadors. The young people identified what they consider to be important, and there were two stand out points for me: school needs to be a safe place, and children and young people with additional support needs continually feel underestimated in their ability and capability.

The overarching recommendation is that children and young people must be listened to and involved in all decision making relating to additional support for learning.

Co-creation and collaboration with children, young people and their families will support more coherent, inclusive, and all-encompassing policy making, which improves implementation, impact, and experience.

As one of the organisations that makes up the My Rights, My Say support service Children in Scotland is ready to fully support this recommendation for children who wish to exercise their rights in relation to additional support and also in our work to independently seek children’s views.

Improve access to online learning

The past few months have created major challenges for families and highlighted the impact and importance of good communication and support. It has also shown what can be provided for children at home which might be of benefit to some children in the longer term.

One of the calls we made with Scottish Autism and the National Autistic Society in our 2018  report Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved, was to improve access to online learning. Our report acknowledged that while it will not be appropriate for every situation, online learning opportunities could be utilised to ensure that those who are missing school, for whatever reason, are still given the opportunity to learn.

We recommended that Education Scotland commit to improve current digital educational resources to support the remote teaching of Curriculum for Excellence, including identifying any specific gaps in the current offer. This is particularly important, and will benefit from the learning gained from our collective experience in recent months.

Re-evaluate how we identify, and celebrate, successful learning

There is a fundamental issue with how we measure success. The ASL Implementation Review report observes the hierarchy in our education system, with some qualifications “valued significantly more highly than others”. The Scottish Government’s own summary statistics on attainment describe passes at SCQF level numbers ‘or better’, for example.

I would love to witness a real shift in recognition of achievements, with the successes of children and young people with additional support needs celebrated publicly, in equivalence to attainment and exam results. The Scottish Commission for Learning Disability is one great example of  leadership in this area, celebrating annual learning disability awards.

Review roles and remits of support staff

The points within the report related to Pupil Support Assistants (PSAs) sing to me. A call is made for a review of the roles and remits of these crucial support staff. I completely agree that standards of practice, learning pathways, career progression routes and remuneration need to be looked at.

Currently, the status awarded to PSAs says all the wrong things about our education system.

The Review itself was conducted in a very short timeframe, with evidence gathering taking place over just a few months. It was reflective of the urgency to re-evaluate how those with additional support needs were being supported throughout their learner journeys.

The response to the report’s recommendations from the Scottish Government, COSLA and the Association of Directors of Education is due to be provided in the autumn. I feel that children, families and practitioners justify a much speedier response than this, or the risk is that the momentum is not upheld.

Previously, there have been too many examples of agreement about action required but failure to progress. There were too many testimonies provided, detailing where things can be better for children and young people for us not to support, champion and action change. The past few months have shown that things can happen quickly. That it can be possible. Collaboration between services and sectors is what we need - for all our children and all of their potential.

Sally Cavers is Head of Inclusion at Children in Scotland

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