Mainstream education 'intolerable' for children with additional needs

The Education Committee’s inquiry heard that many children were not having their needs met by the current provision.

Mainstream education ‘intolerable’ for children with additional needs, say MSPs PA Media

Mainstream education for many children with additional support needs (ASN) can be “intolerable” because of the gap between policy ambition and implementation, a Holyrood committee has warned.

Guidance published by the Scottish Government in 2019 set out a “presumption” of mainstream education, unless it would be incompatible with the needs of the child, as an extension to the 2000 Standards in Scotland’s Schools Act.

A report by Holyrood’s Education Committee unanimously agreed this policy was the best route forward, but following an extensive inquiry, it found the Scottish Government and local authorities were failing to implement it properly.

During the committee’s evidence sessions, the National Autistic Society raised concerns that children with autism were “forced to fail in mainstream settings” before any other support was offered.

The report said: “The committee was alarmed to hear there was strong evidence to suggest that the majority of ASN pupils are not having their needs met.

“The committee agrees with the policy intention behind the 2000 Act’s presumption of mainstreaming. However, the gap between the policy intention and how this has been implemented in practice is intolerable.”

Concerns were also raised regarding new build schools which tend to be open-plan, with experts warning it could prove overwhelming for neurodiverse children.

The committee also expressed particular concern that neurodivergent children were “masking”, where they took measures to blend in while in school, leading to significant emotional, behavioural and mental health issues at home.

Committee convener Sue Webber said: “The situation faced by children and young people with additional support needs is intolerable.

“During our inquiry, we were extremely concerned to hear about negative experiences of additional support for learning provision, the educating of children and young people in mainstream schools and the detrimental impact this has had on some pupils, their parents and carers, and teachers and support staff.

“Things must change. The Scottish Government and local authorities have been repeatedly warned about the consequences of failing to improve support for children with additional support needs.

“With a rising number of children reporting with additional support needs – a third of pupils in some areas – the Government and local authorities must not ignore the concerns and recommendations made in this report.”

Recommendations include reviewing placing requests for special schools, researching the prevalence of masking and addressing the gaps in specialist provision.

The Scottish Government has been asked for comment.

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