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Chamber and committees

Education, Children and Young People Committee


Educational Institute of Scotland submission November 2021

EIS submission for Impact of Covid 19 on Children and Young People with ASN

EIS Submission to the Education, Children and Young People Committee on the Impact of Covid on Children and Young People with Additional Support Needs/ Who Are Care Experienced

The EIS, Scotland’s largest teacher trade union and professional association, representing teachers across all sectors and all career levels, is pleased to provide written evidence to the Education, Children and Young People Committee on the impact of Covid on children and young people with additional support needs and those who are care experienced.

The information which is set out below has been gathered from members of the EIS national Additional Support Needs Network, from Executive Committee discussions and a meeting of ASN Teachers in one of our Local Association areas.

The comments pertain mainly to the observations and experiences of teachers working with young people within mainstream settings.

Rising incidence of additional support need

A common theme across a number of recent discussions has been the further increase in the numbers of young people presenting with an even wider array of and more acute additional support needs, as a result of the impact of the pandemic.

Many young people who did not have additional support needs before Covid struck, require significant additional support now as a result of their experiences over the duration of the pandemic. The societal and family contexts coupled with disruption to learning have meant that an increased number of children and young people now require additional support.

EIS members from various local authority areas have reported an increase in the numbers of children presenting with delayed development- for example, still wearing nappies or with minimal speech and language acquisition on arriving in Primary 1.

Also reported has been an increase in violent incidents arising from pupils’ distressed behaviour, most notably among P1 and P2 children who traditionally have been less likely to exhibit violent behaviour.

It was recently reported to the EIS national executive Committee from one Local Association area, that over the period of a few days in that week, one Early Primary teacher had suffered a broken jaw and damage to the eye socket from being kicked in the face by a pupil; and another in a different school had a tooth knocked out, having been punched in the face by a child in Primary 2. Others at the meeting concurred based on experiences in their own areas that there is acute need relative to distressed behaviour among a larger cohort of young people than previously, yet Behaviour Support provision is another area in which resources have diminished significantly over the past decade.

Mental health impact

Within this context, more children and young people are presenting with mental health problems for which there is insufficient immediate or timely support.

CAMHS waiting lists are growing and while the Scottish Government may have set the wheels in motion with regards to alternative types of support to CAMHS, the wheels are turning too slowly to enable timely intervention for the many young people who are struggling currently. Not only does this impact negatively on their wellbeing, it impedes their ability to learn.

Counselling support, particularly within the Primary sector where even pre-pandemic more and more young people were presenting with mental health-related additional support need, is sparse.

Against such a backdrop of limited specialist wellbeing support, members report a rise in general anxiety, and in issues related to sleep and eating, across the board for pupils.

Impact of Covid-related bereavement

EIS members are reporting increased need for bereavement support for young people who have lost family members over the course of the pandemic. Given the socio-economic distribution of Covid deaths, this need will be greatest among children and young people from the poorest families and communities.

In one case reported, young people and staff continue to be distressed at the death from Covid of a teacher in the school.

The limited availability of bereavement support and the need to observe Covid safety protocols around visitors to school buildings have meant, however, that young people suffering the effects of bereavement are not getting the support that they need.

Impacts on young people with ASD

EIS members have reported that some young people with Autism experienced heightened levels of anxiety in relation to Covid infection risk, displayed, for example, by staying at home- ‘hiding’- within a safe environment, for fear of catching Covid in school on door handles and via paper.

Some young people with very complex ASD needs struggled with mask-wearing protocols and being unable to see teachers’ faces as they wore masks in accordance with guidance in the interests of mitigating the risks of infection for all.

Many young people with ASD struggled to make the transition from home learning where they had been relatively isolated back to school with 30 or more young people in a class, being confused about social distancing requirements, for example.

Impact on care experienced young people

One of our ASN-specialist members has observed that care experienced young people who are looked after at home appear to be more impacted than those looked after out of the home. This is suggested by a worsening of general behaviour and an increase in impulsive behaviours, more swearing, and use of transphobic and misogynistic language.

Impact on young people with English as an Additional Language

During periods of school closure EIS members reported concerns about the impact of the shift to online learning on young people from migrant or refugee communities who have English as an additional language and whose parents/ carers with varying degrees of proficiency in English were not all able to provide the support to their children that other parents were.

On return to school buildings, with the reality of pre-pandemic cuts to EAL service provision still very much being felt, the EIS remains concerned about the disproportionate impact of Covid on the learning of this cohort of young people, particularly those of refugee status who are in many cases likely to be experiencing the effects of displacement-related trauma.

Parents struggling to cope

It has been reported to the EIS that some parents of young people with more complex needs have sent them to school when they were infected with Covid, this perhaps reflective of parents’ struggle to support their children at home.

Impact on learning

EIS members report, in the context of a specific focus on Literacy and Numeracy as part of the Recovery Curriculum, that the experiences of the pandemic and associated disruption to learning are impacting negatively on the development of young people’s skills in literacy and numeracy.

Additional strain on resources

Prior to the Covid 19 pandemic, the EIS was campaigning strongly

in relation to the chronic under-resourcing of ASN provision, which has been subject to swinging cuts over the past decade or more, against a backdrop of increased austerity-related need, and large class sizes.

As teachers and other school staff have struggled to cope, the impact on workload, health and wellbeing has been significant. The EIS’s 2018 all-member survey probed this area and found that:

  • 78.2% of respondents (from a total of over 12,000) disagreed or strongly disagreed that provision for CYP with ASN in their school was adequate.
  • EIS members were 62 times more likely to report feeling stressed ‘frequently’ or ‘all of the time’ at work if ASN provision was inadequate within their school.
  • 42% of teachers working in Support for Learning said they regularly worked more than 8 extra unpaid hours per week.
  • 86% of Support for Learning teachers said that their stress levels were high
  • 52% of all respondents cited the struggle to meet the needs of young people with additional support needs as the single greatest cause of their stress at work.

Without there having been significant additional investment of resource prior to 2020, and the Morgan Review of ASL largely body-swerving the issue of under resourcing of ASN provision, this picture, is likely, and appears from anecdotal evidence, to have worsened during the course of the pandemic. (The EIS is soon to launch an all-member survey which is designed to capture some new data in this area.)

In the meantime, there are reports of increased stress-related staff absence and burnout.

At times where Covid-related staff absence is particularly acute in the Special School context, the remaining staff are working constantly throughout the day without breaks and lunchbreaks to attend to essential personal care needs in addition to providing learning.

GIRFEC

EIS members are reporting greater need for Nurture provision but insufficiency of resources to provide it and an increase in the number of GIRFEC-related meetings yet with no increase in the number of staff able to plan for, attend and take forward the outcomes from such meetings. The impact of this is further delays in young people getting the support that they need and associated heightened distress.

Delayed assessment and diagnosis of additional support needs

Waiting times for assessment and diagnosis of young people’s additional support needs is commonly in the region of 6-12 months, meaning that there are long delays in young people receiving the tailored, evidence-informed support that they need.  

Geographical challenges

For some pupils in certain geographical areas, poor internet access, social isolation in small and remote communities, and lack of opportunities for after school activities, either individually or combined, are factors which can both intensify the level of need and heighten the barriers to the requisite support.

Lessons on what worked during school closure

During periods of school closure when school communities sought to respond to the needs of young people with additional support needs, many innovative approaches were taken that had nurture at the heart of them. For example, working with smaller groups of pupils to take them hillwalking, to engage them in crafts activities, and provide support for digital learning.

In addition to responding to the specific learning needs of pupils, significant additional investment is needed to support Nurture at this time, arguably for all pupils and students, and most definitely those with social and emotional additional support needs and/or who belong to the families and communities that have been disproportionately impacted by Covid. 

Facing up to the challenge

The EIS continues to believe that the Scottish Government and Local Authorities need to be honest about the size of the challenge that we face with regards to ASN provision and about how we address it.

Scotland needs a long-term resourcing strategy- including action to reduce class sizes and significantly enhance the availability of specialist ASN support and expertise within schools- to match the scale of the promise to children and families made within the Additional Support Needs Act almost two decades ago; and to respond to the now even more urgent and larger scale need which has emerged as a consequence of the pandemic.

To continue to dodge the issue of resources and to tinker around the edges of fixing the problem does a huge disservice to many.

It is letting down children and young people with additional support needs, including those who are care experienced, whose wellbeing, learning and associated outcomes are negatively affected by lack of appropriate support.

It also does a disservice to the children and young people in our schools who do not have additional support needs and whose daily educational experiences are impacted by the classroom dynamics which emerge from the fact that there are very large numbers of young people beside them who do need extra help, yet only one teacher and an insufficient numbers of additional ASN teachers and support assistants to give that help and to respond to their own needs and entitlements as learners. Furthermore, the stress impact of these conditions for teachers has a negative effect on the learning environment for all learners. OECD research shows that where teacher wellbeing is sound, learning outcomes for young people are enhanced.

The inertia around ASN resourcing is also letting down families who see the damage that the lack of support does to their children, who are upset by it and are either, where they have capacity, forced into advocacy activity that they should not have to be engaged in; or where they do not have capacity, continue to be distressed by their child’s struggle.

It is letting down the teachers and other school staff who are left to respond to an array of increasingly complex support needs and the distress of children and families that emerges when needs are unmet as a result of insufficiency of resources, on a daily basis.

And it will lead to failure of the collective mission to close the poverty related attainment gap.

In looking to recover from the impact of Covid, as with many other areas of society, a return to a pre-Covid ‘normal’, a pre-pandemic ‘business as usual’ mode, regarding support for children and young people with additional needs, including those who are care experienced, will be grossly insufficient.

 


Related correspondences

Education, Children and Young People Committee

Autism Resources Coordination Hub

Submission from ARCH regarding the Impact of Covid 19 on Children and Young People with ASN

Education, Children and Young People Committee

Centre for Excellence for Childrens Care and Protection CELCIS

CELCIS submission on the Impact of Covid 19 on Children and Young People for ASN

Education, Children and Young People Committee

Children in Scotland Submission

Children in Scotland submission on the impact of Covid 19 on Children and Young People with ASn