Meeting date: Thursday, November 2, 2017
Meeting of the Parliament 02 November 2017
Agenda: General Question Time, Point of Order, First Minister’s Question Time, Diabulimia, Inclusive Education, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- Point of Order
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Inclusive Education
- Decision Time
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-08558, in the name of John Swinney, on the presumption of mainstreaming.
A commitment to and belief in inclusive education have underpinned the approach to education policy and legislation in the Scottish Parliament since 2000. The Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc Act 2000 was one of the first pieces of legislation to be passed by Parliament, and it features a requirement that education for all children be provided in mainstream schools, except in prescribed exceptional circumstances.
Those provisions commenced in 2002; their importance cannot be overstated. They created an entitlement for children and young people whose parents would previously often have had to fight for the right of their children simply to be educated. The presumption of mainstreaming, as it has become known, firmly closed the door on institutionalisation of pupils who need support, and it recognised the value to society, communities and families of pupils learning in their communities, wherever possible, while allowing those who need specialist support to receive it.
We now have the first generation of young people who have experienced mainstream education as a consequence of the rights that were established under the 2000 act, and we have seen the fruits of the involvement of those young people in our society and in our communities, where they have been able to obtain their education.
In 2004, Parliament went even further and created a truly inclusive approach to education through the groundbreaking Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004. That act fundamentally changed how children and young people are supported in schools. It moved away from a model of medical deficit to a legislative framework that focuses on barriers to children’s and young people’s learning. It recognises that children and young people experience barriers for a range of reasons, including disability and health needs, but it also recognises that family circumstances, learning environment and social and emotional factors can play a part in creating barriers—not all of them long term—to a child’s learning effectively in school.
The key point of the legislation is that children and young people have the right to have their needs identified and assessed, and to receive the support that they need, when they need it, in order that they can overcome anything that gets in the way of their learning.
It is worth recalling that both the 2000 act and the 2004 act were put in place by our predecessors in Government. Since coming to power in 2007, the SNP Government has continued to embed in policy and legislation its commitment to inclusive education. We have updated and revised—first in 2009 and again last year—the additional support for learning legislation and associated guidance to ensure that the 2004 act is effectively implemented.
The wider policies that underpin school education in Scotland—curriculum for excellence, getting it right for every child, and our more recent developments in raising attainment for all, the Scottish attainment challenge and our education reforms—all focus on the need to tackle inequality in order to create a fairer Scotland, and to put each and every child’s needs and interests at the heart of the education system.
That demonstrates the difference that Parliament has made through its dialogue about those subjects, and it demonstrates the difference that Parliament can continue to make when it comes together around shared values, and works together to make change happen in a relatively short time. We should not forget the difference that we can and do make to the people of Scotland as a consequence of that concerted all-party action.
At its heart, inclusive education does not just tolerate diversity but, importantly, promotes and celebrates the diversity in our society. It allows all children and young people to develop an understanding and recognition of differences. That contributes to the development of an increasingly inclusive, empathetic and more just society. It also affords children and young people the opportunity to be part of a community, thereby boosting their emotional wellbeing and aiding the development of social skills.
However, inclusive education also needs diversity in provision: a range of educational settings being available is necessary to ensure that children learn in the environment that best meets their needs. In practice, that means having mainstream schools, special schools, units within mainstream schools and flexible placements.
I want to be clear that there will be no change to the legislation on mainstreaming. This Government will commit neither to a system in which all children must learn in mainstream schools nor to a system in which all children with additional support needs must learn in special schools. We will continue to have legislation that maintains the presumption to mainstream education, and which allows children whose needs are best met in specialist provision or through a mix to have that objective fulfilled.
There are a wide range of positive examples of support provision across Scotland. At the opening of the new Carrongrange high school in Grangemouth yesterday, I saw for myself an absolutely fantastic facility that provides special needs education for young people across a range of different circumstances and experiences. What is striking to me about the development there—which has been taken forward through partnership between the Scottish Government and Falkirk Council—is the creation of a learning environment that reflects the needs and requirements of young people with special educational needs, and deploys its services within a world-class education facility that creates tremendous opportunities for those young people. It was also very clear to me that education is being delivered there in the context of there being very strong staff commitment and staff provision to ensure that adequate resources are in place to meet the needs of individual young people.
The settings of education will vary but, fundamentally, the Government operates on the principle that we should deliver mainstream education where we can, although exceptional provision has to be made available within our society as part of that proposition.
We have a clear agenda for education that is focused on creating a world-class education system that delivers excellence and equity for all children and young people. That does not mean that everything has to be the same and has to be experienced in the same way, but that children and young people should have equal opportunities to reach their full potential.
The approach that we are taking is making a difference. We have more children who have been identified as needing, and who are receiving, additional support in schools. Children and young people who need support for any reason in the short or long terms are being recognised and supported in schools across Scotland: we are supporting children and young people who, until a few years ago, would not have received support, including support for the bereaved, for those from armed forces families and for those whose parents are imprisoned. In addition, it is now commonplace for able pupils to be educated alongside pupils who would traditionally have received support for autism, dyslexia or sensory impairment and, of course, pupils with disabilities.
The outcomes for children and young people with additional support needs have been improving and continue to improve. Here are some of the data. Since 2010-11, attendance of pupils with additional support needs has continued to improve in primary, secondary and special schools, with a total percentage improvement of 1.1 per cent. The overall rate of exclusion for all pupils has more than halved since 2006-07 due to the continued focus by schools and education authorities on building on and improving their relationships with the children and young people who are most at risk of exclusion from their learning communities. However, more needs to be done for pupils who have additional support needs, because they continue to experience a higher rate of exclusion from school. That is unacceptable: more needs to be done to reduce the number.
Children and young people with additional support needs are gaining more and better qualifications than ever. In 2014-15, 60.7 per cent of school leavers with additional support needs left school with one qualification or more at Scottish credit and qualifications framework level 5 or better, and 84.6 per cent left school with one qualification or more at SCQF level 4 or better.
That is all leading to positive outcomes. More young people with additional support needs are reaching positive destinations than ever before: 86.9 per cent of pupils with additional support needs have reached a positive destination, of whom 19 per cent went on to higher education, 38.6 per cent went on to further education and 28.6 per cent went on to employment, training or volunteering. Those achievements are testament to the role that is played by the professional teaching workforce and the wide range of practitioners and professionals who provide the support that children need in their learning.
We should not forget the role that is played by parents and families in supporting their children’s learning, and the role that they often need to play in order to ensure that their children’s rights are respected and that they get the education to which they are entitled, in a setting that best meets their needs. We all know of constituents, and some of us know family members and friends, who are those parents.
Although we can and should reflect on all that we have done in the past to create and maintain inclusive education and how that has contributed to a real shift in attitudes and achievement today, we must also acknowledge that more needs to be done. Recent evidence to Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee demonstrates that the right decisions are not being made for all children and young people and that, for some, inclusive education is still but a policy, rather than their everyday experience. We remain committed to mainstreaming as a central pillar of our inclusive approach to education. The Scottish approach to inclusion is already world leading; our legislative and policy commitments are among the most extensive in the world.
However, we must improve the experience of inclusion for all pupils if we are to deliver on the promise of such an ambitious framework. That is why today I am announcing that the Government will consult on draft guidance on the presumption of mainstreaming. The draft guidance aims to bridge the gap between legislation, policy and day-to-day experience, in order to ensure that local authorities have the information and support that they need to guide their decision making in applying the presumption of mainstream education. It also seeks to encourage a child-centred approach to making decisions on placement.
The implementation of the presumption of mainstreaming requires a commitment to inclusive practice, and it requires approaches to be effective, so the guidance throughout clearly links inclusive practice with the presumption. It includes key features of inclusion and guidance on how to improve inclusive practice in schools. The consultation offers an opportunity to shape the guidance before it is finalised. We will listen very carefully, so I encourage all those who have a contribution to make to express their views in the consultation exercise.
In response to the Education and Skills Committee report “How is Additional Support for Learning working in practice?” I acknowledged that the committee wished to act on the evidence that it had heard. I therefore committed to commissioning independent research into the experiences of children, young people, parents, school staff—including support staff—and education authorities and their partners in relation to additional support for learning. I can now announce that the research process will start and will run concurrently with the consultation on the draft guidance. The intention is to conduct the research in early 2018 and to publish a final report by the end of the summer. Its findings will be used to inform policy development and reporting so that we continue to renew and refresh our commitment to inclusive education in the future, as we have done throughout this session of Parliament.
There is also work that we can do now to improve the experience of inclusive education for children and young people. I have already highlighted the crucial role that is played by teachers, support staff and other staff in mainstream primary and secondary schools, and in units and special schools all over Scotland. They are the key to ensuring that children’s and young people’s experience of education—in the classroom and in the whole school—is truly inclusive. They need to know that they have access to resources that support their professional practice and give them confidence to support children’s learning successfully. We therefore intend to work with Education Scotland to develop inclusive education resources to support headteachers, teachers and support staff in their work, which will be available early next year.
An inclusive approach to education also requires that every child and young person be involved in their own education, and have a voice in shaping their experience. They should be provided with the support that they need to reach their learning potential. One of the aims of the draft guidance will be to give children, parents and carers their place in the decision-making process. From January 2018, children from 12 to 15 will be empowered by the extension of their rights in respect of additional support for learning in school education. We will continue to listen to the voices of young people. Our inclusion ambassadors provide a great way for us to do that, and responses from the consultation on the draft guidance and the research will help to shape our future actions further.
I have set out how far we have come since the Parliament’s establishment—from the recent past when children were treated in a way that often separated them from their peers and their communities, to the present day and our understanding of the importance of inclusion not only for the children themselves but for the wider community. I have been and continue to be clear that this Government’s ambition is for all children and young people, including those who experience barriers to their learning, to be able to reach their full potential, and I have restated our commitment to inclusive education.
However, I know that that commitment is shared across the chamber. We should not lose sight of the fact that none of what we have achieved for children and young people with additional support needs has been achieved without our listening to each other and, indeed, learning from each other’s perspectives in the debate. I hope that the next steps that I have set out today will help to take us further in our journey towards delivering inclusive education in practice for all children and young people.
The education of our children and young people is of paramount importance to us all. We all want all children and young people to have equitable access to a good-quality education that meets their needs and helps them to achieve their full potential.
That the Parliament recognises that mainstreaming has featured at the heart of its commitment to inclusive education since 2000; welcomes that successive administrations have created and strengthened this commitment through the development of legislative and policy frameworks to support the additional needs of children in their learning; acknowledges the need to learn from current practice to support additional needs and, in particular, the experiences of children, young people and parents in order to improve their experience of inclusive education; welcomes therefore the forthcoming research on this and its findings, which will inform future practice, and notes the launch of the consultation on Excellence and Equity for All: Guidance on the Presumption of Mainstreaming, which seeks to bridge the gap between legislation, policy and the practical experience of children, young people and their families, so that pupils have equitable access to a quality education that meets their needs and helps them to achieve their full potential.14:46
I very much welcome the opportunity to debate this issue, and I warmly welcome the Scottish Government initiatives that have been announced this afternoon. We would all acknowledge that this is not an easy debate, but nonetheless the issue is of huge significance to families across Scotland, and not just those with vulnerable children.
As the cabinet secretary rightly pointed out, there is a historical context to this issue. Those of us of a certain age remember very well a time when many pupils with very special needs found it very difficult indeed to be seen as deserving of any special focus in their own school, their own local authority or any national Government policy. I am happy to say that we have come a long way since that time, and I take this opportunity to note that supportive inclusion was one of the key attributes of Scottish education flagged up in a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It is important that we remember that. I think that we can all agree that inclusion is important for exactly the reasons that the cabinet secretary set out, and we must do all that we can to ensure that inclusion continues to mean pupils having meaningful engagement and experiences in their schools and not just simply being on the roll in a mainstream school. That is a very important difference.
Although a lot of good progress has been made, complexity is increasing, and it is that complexity that is challenging us to revisit the policy. I would argue that the situation has been somewhat complicated by a number of issues. First—the cabinet secretary referred to this himself—especially over the past decade, there has been much better detection of pupils with specific problems and a huge increase in the number of pupils identified as having ASN, including those whose needs are very complex. When the current definition was first used, 98,500 pupils were identified with ASN, but in the past five years, that figure has risen 73 per cent to 170,300. The news about the level of detection is good, but clearly the situation puts additional pressure on our schools.
That said, there are also key issues to address with regard to how effectively accurate data is being collected and then used in the relevant manner. We are very conscious of the widespread variation in the count across different local authorities; for example, in North Lanarkshire, only 6 per cent of the mainstream school population was identified as having ASN while the figure for Aberdeenshire was 35 per cent. What that flags up to me is possible differences in approach, and we might have to look at the issue in much greater detail. After all, the data is obviously crucial to informing policy.
Just for completeness, on Liz Smith’s analysis of the statistics, does she accept that, within the much expanded number of young people identified with special needs, the range of requirements and support is very broad and runs from very minor to very significant and acute interventions to support children’s needs?
Yes, I absolutely accept that, and I hope that we can make progress exactly on the accuracy of the data and its relevant application. When the Education and Skills Committee considered the issue, we found slightly disturbing differences in interpretation across local authorities.
There is good news on that front, but I note that the Scottish children’s services coalition pointed to the importance of identifying additional support needs and said that, sometimes, those needs demand the greater diversity that the cabinet secretary is looking for but which is not always deliverable under the current local authority structures. It made the point that the average local authority spend on ASN pupils has fallen by 11 per cent in the same time that there has been a percentage increase in the numbers with identified needs.
I had a good conversation with Mark McDonald, the Minister for Childcare and Early Years, about level 9 qualifications in relation to those who look after some of our vulnerable children. He was responsive to some issues that I raised back in February about the appropriateness of certain aspects of staffing and whether it is always necessary for additional support for learning teachers to be at SCQF level 9 or above. I hope that we can continue that discussion, because I think that that has an effect on the number of people who qualify and on the costs that some of our special schools incur.
The financial constraints on councils, especially when combined with teacher shortages, are a huge issue, and we should be in no doubt that those have forced some pupils who should be in special schools—for very genuine reasons—to be mainstreamed perhaps for too long a period. We can all point to constituents who have encountered difficulties in that regard. It worries me that some constituents who have come to me have spoken about schools possibly making judgments on a financial basis rather than an educational one. We have to do something to reverse that, because, as the cabinet secretary has rightly said, what matters is the educational interests of each child, not just the financial circumstances.
We have some fantastic special schools that deal with children who have the greatest and most complex needs. This point is perhaps for Derek Mackay rather than for the education ministers, but we have to be careful that we do not penalise those schools as a result of the discussions that we are having around business rates, because the impact on some special schools of changes in that regard could be serious. I make a plea on behalf of small, independent schools—the cabinet secretary knows some of the schools in Mid Scotland and Fife that I am talking about—that have pointed out that they might face closure if they have to deal with increasing costs.
The key issue is that we must weigh up the overall benefits to a child’s education and personal development. The current legislation—which all parties have supported—makes plain that there should be a presumption to mainstream. We are supportive of that, obviously, but we have spelled out three categories in which that might not be appropriate.
Generally speaking, I think that most stakeholders are content. The problem—so the argument goes—lies not so much with the legislation as with how it is interpreted within and across local authorities. We should take advice from many people in this sector, such as Kenny Graham, the head of education at Falkland House school, who has flagged up his firm belief that the way forward is to consider the interpretation of the legislation and the guidance.
In this policy area, the central dilemma is how we balance the very strong social reasons for keeping a child in mainstream schooling with the best educational interests of the child. Those two factors do not always fit neatly together, and there is the further complication of what is in the best educational interests of other children in the peer group, especially in situations in which there is a pressure on teaching resources—as a former teacher, I know exactly what some of those pressures can be and about some of the emotions that surround the decisions that have to be made.
This is not an easy area of policy, as I said at the beginning of my speech, but it is critical when it comes to supporting our young people and ensuring that every one of them is given the support that they need. We should not be misled by the false premise that equity is necessarily complemented by mainstreaming—I was pleased to hear the cabinet secretary endorsing that position—because it is patently clear that we can do a grave disservice to some of our most vulnerable young people if we come to that conclusion. The challenge is to structure our resources accordingly. To that end, I am happy to support the Government motion and the Labour amendment.
I move amendment S5M-08558.1, to insert at end:
“; recognises the significant pressure that has been placed on local authorities by the commitment to mainstreaming as a result of the diminished number of teachers, especially on those who are trained to support pupils with additional support needs (ASN), given the large increase in the number of pupils identified with ASN, and the continued use of specialist educational provision outwith their own local authority area; notes with concern the comments of trainee teachers at the meeting of the Education and Skills Committee on 10 May 2017 that some aspects of teacher training courses do not adequately equip them to cope with the plurality of needs and behaviours of ASN pupils, and calls on the Scottish Government to address these concerns which have, inevitably, meant that some young people are not currently receiving the best support possible.”14:55
The cabinet secretary is absolutely right to place today’s consultation in the context of the development of the policy and legislative framework on disability issues, generally, and additional needs education, specifically, across almost 20 years and across different Administrations. I am honestly not sure how world leading we are on this, but we have certainly come a long way. When the Scottish Parliament began in 1999, far too many of Scotland’s disabled people still lived in long-stay hospital accommodation, excluded not just from mainstream education but from the community altogether. It is hard to imagine that that was considered the norm. The ability to live, participate and learn in the community is now a right that is supported across the chamber and, indeed, across wider society.
One key early moment in that regard was the first learning disability strategy in the Scottish Parliament, and its title, “The same as you?”, encapsulates the principle that we strive for. We must disabuse ourselves of the idea that people with particular needs, physical or otherwise, are asking for something special and extra. The truth is that they want the same things as we all do: to live freely and to have every possible chance to make the most of their lives; and their right to a home, to healthcare and—yes—to an education is no less valid than anyone else’s.
No matter how well we think we have done, we have to acknowledge that we have much further to go, especially in areas such as employment and—yes—education. A presumption of mainstreaming in schools is exactly where the principle of being the same as you takes us in education, but, as the education secretary said—to his credit—in his introduction to the guidance, the measure of that cannot simply be children’s presence in a mainstream school; it is the opportunities in our schools, not just the desks in the classroom, that we are obliged to open up to all.
I have used this example before in debate, but it encapsulates the issue that we are discussing. Many years ago, I taught science in this city at Gracemount secondary school, which in those days shared a campus with Kaimes school for the partially sighted. Kaimes pupils attended some mainstream classes as well as specialist provision, which is one of the models that Mr Swinney talked about and that is in the document.
In my science class, I had one or two pupils with particular needs. In recognition of those circumstances, class sizes were low—14 or so—so I was able to ensure that I gave the extra support required. Quite often, I was supported in my classroom by a specialist teacher from Kaimes school. It was mainstreaming and it worked. As a young teacher starting out, I felt a professional pride in our success.
In the early 1980s, I spent a couple of years working abroad and, when I returned, things had changed. As now, it was a time of cuts and, instead of one or two, there were three, four or sometimes five partially sighted pupils in my classes, all of which were at the maximum class size of 21. There was no specialist support. The truth was that there was no space to give additional needs pupils any additional support at all—they were at a desk in my classroom but not included in my class. I felt guilty about that, but needs must. There was pressure on us—curricular change, new exams, bigger classes all round. Plus ça change.
Mainstreaming may be a much more mainstream idea today, but resources are still at a premium. Since 2010, we have seen a 153 per cent increase in the number of pupils who are identified as having additional support needs, which cannot all be explained by the inclusion of those with temporary or low-level needs. At the same time, the number of ASN support staff is down by 8 per cent and the number of learning support teachers has dropped by 13 per cent. The Scottish children’s services coalition has calculated that spend per pupil on additional support for learning was £4,276 in 2012-13 but only £3,817 in 2015-16. There is more need but less provision.
Clearly, more responsibility for ASL will fall squarely on teachers in general, yet Enable’s surveys tell us that 98 per cent of the education workforce do not feel that teacher training adequately prepares teachers for that role. It is 30 years since I failed those partially sighted pupils at Gracemount high school, but we still seem to be making some of the same mistakes.
I hear the point that Mr Gray is making, but he will have heard the Deputy First Minister highlight the significant improvement that there has been in outcomes for children with additional support needs. How does he reconcile his characterisation of those pupils as being failed with the clear improvement that there has been in outcomes for the children whom he is describing?
That is very much to the credit of our teachers and additional support needs workers who remain in the system. However, we cannot ignore the fact that, as Enable tells us, 52 per cent of pupils with learning disabilities do not feel that they are getting the right support at school. How they feel about the support that they are receiving is pretty critical.
We cannot, in all conscience, properly rededicate ourselves to the principle of a presumption of mainstreaming or properly endorse the legal and administrative framework for delivering inclusion if we are not prepared to acknowledge and face up to the reality of the resources that are required to make that happen properly. To do so is to disrespect the everyday, lived experience of teachers, parents and—above all—those pupils who say that they do not feel that they are receiving the support that they need.
I do not pretend that the resource challenge is easy—not at all—but we cannot pretend that it does not exist. It is not, in the end, a party- political point that I am trying to make; it is almost a moral point about the obligation that we all have. If we do not acknowledge the problems, we are deceiving ourselves about the virtue of our commitment to inclusiveness. If we will the noble end of the principle of being the same as you but are not prepared to will the mundane means to achieve it, we are simply meeting our own need to feel that we are doing the right thing, while failing thousands of families and children who are looking to us to do the right thing for them—simply to really include them.
I move amendment S5M-08558.3, to insert at end:
“; further notes that the number of children with additional support needs (ASN) in Scotland has increased by 153% since 2010, that one-in-seven ASN teaching posts have been cut since 2010 and that evidence to the Education and Skills Committee from unions and parents shows a lack of resources and funding cuts to schools having a negative impact on the level of education that they can provide to children with ASN, and believes that, if mainstreaming in education is to be fully effective, the Scottish Government must ensure that schools have the funding and staff to deliver it.”15:03
I remind members that I am the parliamentary liaison officer for the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills.
As we have heard, the presumption of mainstreaming is now well enshrined in Scottish educational discourse, but it was not always like that. We have talked about putting the child at the centre, but the political culture and, conversely, the educational culture were not always like that. In my lifetime, teachers were still legally able to belt pupils. In fact, at the last school in which I taught, a framed tawse adorned the staffroom wall. “In Emergency Break Glass” read the instruction below it.
When we talk about inclusive education and meeting the needs of all, we should be cognisant of the importance of school culture. The downward trajectory of exclusion rates is good news but, to my knowledge, the Government does not currently gather records of internal exclusions, which take place under the radar, as it were. Those exclusions involve sending a pupil out of the classroom to the cooler or the sin bin, as I have heard it called. I hope that the Government will consider directly collecting that data, particularly from our secondary schools, as part of its consultation.
I will give members an example of a pupil whom I taught. In first year, Jamie was the class clown: he mucked about, he got the laughs and he was often sent out. Jamie also had a pretty complex range of additional support needs, but he loved the debating part of modern studies. He was bright and he was switched on. On the writing part, however, Jamie was not convinced. He struggled and struggled, and he would then give up.
Jamie’s writing capabilities as a secondary 1 pupil were where we would expect a primary 1 pupil’s writing abilities to be. I did my best as a teacher in a class with 30 12-year-olds in front of me, but it was not easy. The class had a learning support assistant, but a number of other children in the class had additional support needs, too.
I often passed Jamie sitting outside the deputy head’s office with a textbook and a jotter in front of him, doodling away. When I asked him why he was out of class, I was invariably told that he had had a run-in with a teacher. For Jamie, it was a kick to get sent out of class and to see his classmates’ faces light up with glee when he challenged the natural power and balance that existed in the classroom, but he got bored quickly. He would swing on the plastic chair, which, in turn, incurred the wrath of teachers, such as me, because he might—heaven forbid—snap the plastic.
I did not know much about Jamie’s home life—that information was not regularly shared with classroom teachers, and it was certainly never shared by email due to its confidential nature. Instead, the gatekeepers of confidential information—the guidance department—would hurriedly ask the staff who taught Jamie to gather around at the end of break to get an update.
It transpired that Jamie’s parents had separated. The nature of what had happened meant that he and his siblings could not stay at home anymore, so they were all farmed out—some went to grandparents miles away, and some went into care. Teachers were only told about what had happened to him four weeks later.
That 12-year-old boy, who was managing to get himself to class, was kicking off to get the attention in school that he was not getting at home. Despite the school knowing that, Jamie would sit—sometimes for weeks on end—outside the deputy head’s office with his jotter and his textbook, doodling away, deprived of his right to education and not having his additional support needs met. There was not a belt, a tawse or a set of lines in sight; nevertheless, Jamie was being punished. The chaos that he experienced at home contrasted with his teachers’ never-ending desire for order. Jamie, true to his lived experience, kicked back in the only way that he knew how.
In revisiting the key features of inclusion, it is difficult to see how Jamie was present in his education. Yes, he attended, but he was not present in any meaningful sense. He did not come to the Halloween disco or take part in the sponsored run. He opted out wherever he could and, more often than not, the school supported his doing so.
On Friday last week, I was privileged to meet Fraser and Jack, pupils at Star primary school, which is just outside Markinch in my constituency. Star primary school is a beautiful Victorian building, but the boys showed me the leaking window ledges, which they asked me to raise directly with the cabinet secretary; I have now done so.
The boys proudly took me around their school. They showed me where the P1s were taught, and they explained to me their models of spaghetti stuck together with marshmallows, emulating the engineering of the new Queensferry crossing. They took me to the back field and explained all the different shrubs that they had planted. Jack and Fraser were totally engaged in their learning.
I ask members to contrast the experience of Jack and Fraser with that of Jamie. Jamie had lots of different needs. He needed additional support in class; he needed a safe environment to learn in; he needed to be nurtured in a way that secondary schools often do not do; and he needed his teachers to have ready access to his confidential information, allowing them to plan lessons and differentiate accordingly. Without that information, Jamie’s teachers could not meet his needs; without it, his teachers came face to face with an angry little boy and, sure enough, he was out the door of most classrooms before he had even sat down.
I hope that the Government’s consultation on the presumption of mainstreaming will look outside our educational bubble. We need to look at the health and social work sectors. They need to work smarter with their schools, particularly in the case of children who are at risk.
The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 placed a legal obligation on our education authorities to identify, provide and review the additional support needs of their pupils. There is a need for our local authorities, which deliver education, to revisit how they meet that requirement. Do they share the information with all staff? Is it available electronically, or do they print it out in a document that is available only to the head of department? Inclusion works only if every part of the system is prepared to talk to and trust the other parts.15:08
I apologise to you, Presiding Officer, and to members in the chamber, because I must leave early tonight to catch the evening plane home.
Tomorrow, one of the things that I will do is visit Sandwick junior high school, which is at the south end of Shetland, with the two members of the Scottish Youth Parliament for our islands. An issue on which we want to reflect is the one that Jenny Gilruth has just elegantly described. In addition to doing one of our normal—for want of a better word—surgeries with the senior pupils, I know that they want to talk to us about mainstreaming because of today’s debate.
Occasionally I wonder whether this place is relevant to what goes on in the wider world, but two things have happened this week that, in the context of this debate, have made me think that it absolutely is relevant. One was the school getting in touch to ask me to bone up on the issue, so that I know what I am talking about in the debate. The second was that a teacher—a very old friend, with whom I went to school—who has taught down here in the mainland of Scotland for years, phoned me up last night to say, “I think there’s a debate on mainstreaming in Parliament tomorrow”, and to give me a list of observations to make. I thought that I had better make them before the next class reunion.
I recognised a lot of my friend’s observations in Iain Gray’s remarks about the reality of teaching. I took on board a lot of what John Swinney said about the international context and the manner in which this Parliament addressed mainstreaming in those early years—Iain Gray and Liz Smith mentioned that, too—but as my very old friend said, “You’ve got to remember the reality of what happens in the classroom now.”
My friend talked about the difficulty of finding staff who are available, experienced and able to hit the ground running in tackling the challenges of mainstreaming. She talked about the difficulty of finding time to train staff adequately. A vast majority of support workers are attached to individuals; that has consequences for the possibilities of sharing support across classrooms, which in my friend’s school are very limited. I know that that is the reality in many schools, and it affects teachers and support for other pupils.
My friend observed that teachers and learning support workers in schools have never worked harder, but we have a reactive system, in which there is no effective management of ASN in the mainstream. She also said that accommodation has to be right; there needs to be enough space across the school estate or within classes for pupils to have the right access to nurturing and quiet time, should they require it, as many pupils do.
Those are the practical observations of a classroom teacher who has worked in education for a long, long time and who absolutely believes in the principles of mainstreaming and wants the system to work but thinks that more needs to be done. I think that her observations are quite telling.
I welcome the guidance, consultation and research that the cabinet secretary mentioned in his speech, but as part of the consultation, logic requires that the Government adopt the recommendation of the Education and Skills Committee in its report, “How is Additional Support for Learning working in practice?”, which was published in May. The committee said in paragraph 7:
“The Scottish Government must also assess the extent to which a lack of resources is impacting on mainstreaming in practice and more generally on the provision of additional support for learning in mainstream education.”
I will be grateful if the Government confirms that it will do that.
I am with Iain Gray. This is not a political point; it is better than that, because it is much wider. It is about the children and young people for whom we need to do so much more, as I think that everyone, from John Swinney onwards, recognises. That was the point of many of the Education and Skills Committee’s recommendations in May on the area. We said:
“Resource limitations that are impacting on these processes include: the number of trained ASN teachers and ASN assistants, the availability of specialists including mental health specialists and educational psychologists, the level of resources supporting the ASN Tribunal process and other appeal processes, and the availability of spaces in special schools.”
Liz Smith made the point about spaces in special schools.
Those factors are increasingly important in the context of class sizes across Scotland. The Government’s own statistics point out fairly that class sizes in primary schools are rising, that by 2015 only 12 per cent of schools had classes of 18 or fewer, that since 2010 there has been a 153 per cent increase in the number of students with additional support needs, and that some 1,800 fewer support staff work in our schools than did in 2010.
That context—class sizes, teacher workload, teacher shortages in some areas, and resources more generally—has to be part of the consultation that the Scottish Government announced today, so that an assessment can be made of what money could do to change a system that is not working as well as we all wish it to do. When the exercise concludes, there needs to be a recognition of the importance of not just the guidance that John Swinney talked about but the practicalities in the classroom that the guidance will support. I hope that John Swinney will undertake to include those matters in the exercise. The exercise is very welcome, but it must address the financial issues.
I have two final points. I think that the Enable report that was produced last month, which other members have highlighted, makes an important contribution to this area of policy, not least because Enable is Scotland’s largest charity for people with disabilities. Significant attention should be paid to the comments of its executive director in relation to what is happening on a practical level. In addition, the report says that 80 per cent of the education workforce say that we are not getting it right for every child. If nothing else, that is the clarion call that should be addressed by the work in this area.15:15
I have a very strong constituency interest in this area, because I am working with a number of families with children of primary school age who are on the autistic spectrum. It is in the context of the challenges that they face that many of my comments will be made.
I am delighted that the Deputy First Minister says at the start of the ministerial foreword to the draft guidance that
“we must improve the experience of inclusion for all pupils if we are to deliver on the promise of such an ambitious framework. Being present in a mainstream school should not be the primary marker of successful inclusion.”
Some parents in Glasgow would say that, over the years, Glasgow City Council has shoehorned children into a mainstream setting rather than finding them the most appropriate setting, so I think that that is a reasonable thing to say.
At the start of the draft guidance, the Deputy First Minister says:
“This non-statutory guidance will present a vision for mainstreaming, building on the best available evidence on inclusive approaches to education.”
The fact that the guidance, which will be shaped during the consultation process, will not be statutory is fine, but how it is adopted must be monitored. Depending on the outcome of that monitoring process, consideration will be given to putting some of the guidance on a statutory footing, and I think that that is reasonable.
Four key principles underpin the guidance, one of which is that it should
“outline an inclusive approach which identifies and addresses barriers to learning for all children.”
It is reasonable to say that, if the four principles cannot be lived up to in a mainstream setting, the situation must be reassessed. Consideration must be given to whether a mainstream setting is the appropriate setting for a young person, or whether, through the provision of additional appropriate supports, it could be the appropriate setting for them. We must identify when that reassessment will be done, who will do it and what criteria should be used. In Glasgow, we are told anecdotally—but not officially—that the approach is to see how a kid gets on in their first year in primary school and to reassess at that point, but a great deal of damage can be done to young people’s development if that is the approach that is adopted, and I hope that that is not the case elsewhere.
A number of key features are meant to signify the delivery of the key principles that are outlined in the guidance. Two of the expectations with regard to how young people should be supported are that
“All children and young people should be supported to overcome barriers to learning and achieve their full potential”
“All children and young people should be given the right help, at the right time, from the right people, to support their wellbeing in the right place”.
In Glasgow, a lot of young people and their parents will say that that does not always happen. I am delighted that the Government’s motion says that a survey, an audit and a consultation will be carried out in relation to the lived experience of young people with additional support needs and their families. Hearing from people at the coalface about their real-life experiences will be vital in matching what the guidance says with what is happening on the ground.
We must look at the types of provision that are appropriate. The appropriate provision might involve a mainstream setting, co-location—that option is taken up quite frequently—or a standalone specialist unit. The guidance gives local authorities some support on how they should come to that decision. It takes the form of reflective questions. In relation to the support on offer, local authorities should ask questions such as
“What steps have been taken to make sure the needs of each child or young person have been correctly identified? How are those identified needs being adequately catered for? Would a different provision provide a better outcome for this child or young person? How?”
A variety of reflective questions are provided. I wonder to what extent such questions are asked, not just in Glasgow but right across Scotland. If the guidance and the reflective questioning technique are to be meaningful, they must be applied consistently across the country.
I have mentioned a number of issues in my constituency and I thank the families who have shared their stories with me. I have tried to help them along the way, where I can, and I hope that I have done so. I also thank Colin Crawford, the head of inclusion at Glasgow City Council, and Andrea Reid from his team, who have been helpful in engaging on the matter.
Glasgow has 53 units, two assessment centres and a young parents support base at Whitehill, and two new provisions coming online at Lochend and Govan. The figure fluctuates, but 1,700 to 1,800 people are in additional support needs provision in Glasgow. I was concerned about whether the planning for that provision—for the estate, the workforce and the assessment processes—was fit for purpose. I had a meeting with Colin Crawford and Andrea Reid to discuss those issues, and I again thank them for the open and frank conversation that we had. It is reasonable to say that they have identified some issues and have put processes in place to improve things, which is a good-news story.
Colin Crawford and Andrea Reid mentioned estate management, support for learning, work on allocations and an inclusion group modelling process for the city. They also mentioned psychological services, which I will come back to, and placement management. That begs a question: how can we get consistent modelling work done across all 32 local authorities to show what the special educational needs estate should look like?
I want to make my next point first in case I am timed out by the Presiding Officer—I have something else to say after it. The experience of my constituents is that young people often end up in standalone specialist units. The proper support is not put in place in the mainstream setting, so my constituents demand more and the young people go to an attached unit. If the proper support is not put in place there, they eventually end up in a standalone specialist setting. I am never sure whether, if the right support had been put into the mainstream setting in the first place, those young people could have been retained in that setting.
Finally, I want to run through a list of things that the guidance must have. It must have some beef in it in relation to the transition from nursery to primary school and from primary school to secondary school. It must look at the following: the assessment process; assessing support in the classroom; reviewing placements; forward planning; estate management; and the evidence base. I promise that this is my final point, Presiding Officer. Glasgow City Council looks at an evidence base that includes referrals to educational psychologists and speech and language therapists, but if a referral cannot be obtained, that does not show up in the data. That is also a significant issue.
Those are big issues but huge opportunities.
On that final, final, final point, I call Oliver Mundell.15:22
On this occasion, I would have been quite happy to give Bob Doris my six minutes because he is making the same points that I hear about in my constituency mailbag, and they are problems that most members see across all our local authorities in Scotland.
Today, we are all united by a common goal of meeting the educational needs of every child in Scotland as best we can, regardless of their ability or whatever additional support they might need. The intention behind the presumption of mainstreaming is a noble one, which is meant to establish inclusivity as a default.
However, inclusivity is far greater than just physically including children with additional support needs in a mainstream classroom setting. Perhaps it is because I am not of an age where I can remember things being all that much different from how they are now, but I look at this area and I see constituents at my surgeries, week in and week out, and I hear about the battles that their families are facing. I do not look at the situation as it is now as being entirely positive.
It is not a political point to say that we must remember that this is a huge challenge, because it is a huge challenge around the world and no one has all the answers. It is difficult to work out exactly what is best when we are balancing up some of the different considerations. We must not forget that many children do not know what mainstream education is. In the parts of my constituency that are covered by the Dumfries and Galloway Council area, I see young people being farmed out across Scotland because adequate resources are not in place that would allow them to go to mainstream or even special schools in the region. Those young people are being separated from their peers and their communities. I do not have all the answers or know what to say, but I see the struggles that their families face and the social and economic cost of that for everyone in our society.
When I reflected on my feelings after reading Enable Scotland’s “#IncludED in the Main?!” report, I was sad and surprised to find that I was not shocked. It is very frustrating to be sitting in this Parliament in 2017 reading the report and to have to accept that all that information is out there and that so many teachers, parents and pupils are facing those experiences, yet we have not found the answers. It shows that there is still a long road ahead to ensure full inclusivity for children with additional support needs and that they can benefit from mainstreaming.
The report found that more than half of the education staff who were surveyed felt that children with learning disabilities were not involved in as many extracurricular activities, trips and opportunities outside the classroom as their peers. It said that two thirds of children with additional support needs were still being bullied in mainstream schools. Additionally, it said that children with additional support needs might not be officially excluded from their classrooms, but informal exclusion was very common, and that parents felt unable to work due to the fear that they would be asked to collect their children during the working day.
In my time as an MSP, one of the saddest things that I have come across was a family in Annan who told me at a support group that the best day of their child’s education was when they were formally excluded from school, because that was the very first time that the local authority took seriously their request for additional support. It was the first time that the family felt listened to by education professionals. I do not think that that was through any malice; it was through a lack of resource and individuals in the education department at the council being overworked. Further, it was through the pressures that teachers were facing in school that they did not find the time to give that child the attention that was needed.
A situation such as that adds so much stress for families and is very unpleasant for them. They have to fight the system every step of the way for their children’s right to a basic level of education. If we do not do something about that, it will only compound the problems that are caused by the attainment gap in the long run, as all children in mainstream schools suffer when support is not there for those who need it the most.
On a more positive note, I welcome the reference that was made to combining special schools with mainstream schools on a single site. In my Dumfriesshire constituency, I am pleased that that is happening with Langlands primary school, which is getting a new building as part of the new learning campus in the town, as that will make a difference to the pupils. I recognise that progress has been made, but there is far more to be done.
We are very lucky that Enable Scotland has done that great piece of work, and I pay a brief tribute to the Annan and Kirkconnel ACE—active community of empowered people—groups in my constituency, who made such an effort to bring it to my attention.
I hope that we are all ready to read the findings of the survey that the Government has proposed, because I think that they will be truly shocking and disappointing, and that they will demand that we redouble our efforts on a cross-party basis to ensure that we get things right for every child in Scotland.15:24
I warmly welcome the opportunity to discuss mainstreaming in education in the chamber this afternoon. It was of course a Labour Scottish Government that introduced the commitment to inclusive education in 2000, which was supported by all parties across the chamber.
I declare an interest as I am proud to be the convener of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on learning disability, which is supported by Enable Scotland. I pay tribute to Enable Scotland for its report, “#IncludED in the Main?!”, and for all the work that it does to advance the rights of people with learning disabilities.
I welcome the consultation on guidance that has been launched by the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills. That is a result of one of the recommendations arising from Enable’s report. I welcome Mr Swinney’s recognition that simply sitting in a classroom does not count as inclusion.
The report is a national conversation about life at school. There is no doubt that education for young people with learning disabilities has improved immensely. It is now 17 years since the presumption to mainstream young people with learning disabilities in education, so we have seen a whole generation go through every stage of education, and the report, which reflects on their lived experience and that of their parents, carers and teachers, is invaluable. However, their stories and experience, and what we have heard in the Parliament, tell us that there is much more to do. We know that for too many young people in our country, inclusive education is still not a reality. Many are still being excluded from classrooms and from opportunities that would enrich their everyday lives. Enable Scotland’s report sets out 22 steps that we can take to make inclusion in education the standard for all Scotland’s young people.
I want to focus on a couple of areas. First, there is a need for specialist staff. The research shows us that 98 per cent of teachers feel that they are not adequately prepared. That is a stunning total. Furthermore, 86 per cent said that there are not enough additional support for learning staff in their schools to support young people with learning disabilities. A substantial 80 per cent of education staff say that they are not getting it right for every child.
I will always welcome new strategies and good intentions, but we need to recognise that the guidance will struggle to make an impact if we are faced with cuts to education budgets. I have had many cases of parents and teachers complaining about the real lack of support in the classroom, which has an impact on their children. That is their lived experience.
There have been cuts. The number of children with additional support needs has increased by 153 per cent since 2010. Many of those pupils come from lower-income households and areas of deprivation. Since 2010, one in seven ASN teaching posts has been cut. The number of children with ASN is increasing, but teaching posts are decreasing. In the past decade, there have been 4,000 fewer teachers, 1,000 fewer support staff and more than 500 fewer additional support needs specialists. Spending per pupil in Scotland has fallen cumulatively by over £1 billion, which is a real-terms reduction of £489 per head at primary level and £152 per head at secondary level.
Let me say this as gently as I can. We all want mainstreaming to work, but it will not work unless there are more resources. I am not talking about resources in general. We need specific, targeted resources that go hand in hand with the guidance, which will be good and can make a difference. The education workforce is central to that success. Enable Scotland has called for renewed investment in the role of additional support for learning teachers. That is essential. We need to ensure that that specialist resource is regularly available to all education staff.
I want inclusive education embedded into every part of the curriculum. The guidance will help, but we must ensure that the specialist teaching resource is in place to support that, too. Having training and employment for specialist support teachers matters. That will benefit not only the pupils who rely on that support at school, but the teachers and education staff who are routinely put under pressure at work, with many of them feeling stressed and anxious due to not having the right support to meet the needs of children and young people with learning disabilities.
The need for additional support for learning teachers was highlighted by people in my constituency as part of Enable Scotland’s national conversation. I want to draw attention to two particular responses, one from a parent in West Dunbartonshire and the other from a teacher in Argyll and Bute. From different perspectives, they both stated that they did not believe that proper support was in place for children and young people with learning disabilities. The teacher highlighted that in Argyll and Bute all the training for additional support needs had been organised privately and that the local authority had provided no support whatsoever, which is clearly disappointing. I whole-heartedly agree with many of the points that Bob Doris made. It might surprise him to hear that, but I thought that he made an excellent speech.
At the end of the day, we can and must do better, because we owe it to future generations of young people with learning disabilities to do so. The guidance will be a good start, but we need additional specialist staff to support its implementation.
I commend to the Scottish Government all the recommendations in Enable’s report and I promise that the cross-party group on learning disability will continue to be a critical but encouraging friend on this journey towards genuine inclusion in our schools.15:35
I am glad to be part of this debate for a number of reasons that will become clear as my speech progresses.
I was pleased to hear from the Deputy First Minister that outcomes for those with learning difficulties have improved. I agree with Iain Gray, who said that we have been on a long journey in this Parliament and that this is an issue on which we can always look for improvement.
It was interesting to hear from Jenny Gilruth, who spoke from a professional point of view about what is happening in our schools.
I know that this is an emotional issue for families whose children are affected by learning difficulties. In my constituency, I hear constantly about families whose children have either not been diagnosed and are not going through the process or who are going through the process but are not getting the support that they need. It looks like the guidance will help with that.
I am aware, for a number of reasons, that the presumption of mainstreaming has been at the core of the Parliament’s inclusive approach to education since 2000. I have been involved in politics for a long time, but my awareness of this issue comes from the fact that my son James went through the education system before this Parliament was reconvened. I say to Oliver Mundell that I am that old and I remember what the system was like before.
My son James struggled with primary school right from the beginning. It took a while for his teachers and everyone else to find out what the issue was. He was a bright wee boy; he was talented and asked lots of questions. When he found out what “Why” meant, that became difficult for us, as it does for every other parent, because we got asked all the questions, such as “Why are we St Mirren supporters?”, “Why do we do this?” and “Why do we do that?”—[Interruption.] The first question was a difficult one for me to answer.
No one knew what was wrong with James and at some points some of the teachers treated and assessed him with a less-than-professional attitude. He was thought of as a child who would never be able to catch on and move forward in school. By the time that James had headed into primary 3, he had been diagnosed with dyspraxia and the education authority had decided that it would be a good idea to have him in the local special school. My whole argument then—as now—was that I did not believe that that was the best way forward for my son. We made that argument at the time, but we did not have the processes that are available to parents now and local authorities did not have the guidance that is available to them now. James ended up with no confidence and no faith in the educational establishment.
I am glad that we all now agree that mainstreaming is the way forward and that we just have to make sure that we get it right.
When James went to a boys football club, for example, and anyone asked what school he was at, he had the embarrassment of saying that he went to a different school, which was a special school. That caused him all kinds of problems. He will probably kill me if he ever reads this speech and sees that I have mentioned this, but if he was honest with himself he would say that that has affected him to this day.
The Scottish Government’s policy is that children and young people should learn in the environment that best suits their needs. If my son had had the right support, it could have made a difference. The problem was that he had low self-esteem and when it came to his achievements he did not feel as if he was doing anything of any value to anyone, no matter what love, affection and support his family and friends gave him—even with all that, he still had difficulties.
We must remain focused on what is good about the presumption of mainstreaming. I know that it is challenging, but I do not want anyone else’s child to go through what my son went through.
I am particularly pleased about some of the new guidance that the Scottish Government will introduce and the fact that education authorities must identify, provide and review the additional support that their pupils need to overcome barriers to learning. The guidance aims to bridge the gap between legislation, policy and day-to-day experience to ensure that local authorities have the support that they require to help them make decisions and apply the policy on the presumption of mainstreaming.
I am aware of the difficulties, but we need to ensure that young men and women get that support at the time when they need it. Currently, 95 per cent of children with additional support needs are educated in mainstream schools. If only we had had that approach back in the day. I believe that all our teachers offer the kind of support that our children and young people need. They are the ones who can be that person for the young person to go to. They are the ones who offer that way forward for our young people, helping them to be ambitious and to try to achieve all they can. They provide that support and they should help all our children and young people to reach their full potential.
One of the many things that we found was that even when James went to the special school—which was a fantastic school and it offered so much—it was not right for him; it was not the right place for him. We now have a system in which we try to ensure that we get our children to the right place at the right time.
Many young people, my son James being one of them, went through a system that did not take into account their needs. Since the Parliament came into being, the presumption of mainstreaming has been a key part of our education policy. We must ensure that we continue to develop that policy further and, as Iain Gray said, constantly improve it and ensure that we do better so that all our children and young people get the start that every one of them deserves.15:41
Presiding Officer, you will find this hard to believe, but I started school in 1972—and yes, the years have been kind. I am very fortunate that where we lived, here in Edinburgh, became the centre for many people from Scotland and the north of England who had upper and lower limb deficiencies. The Princess Margaret Rose orthopaedic hospital set up a special centre so, over the holiday period, many of us got together to get the extra help that was required. Looking back, I think that I was the only child of that age there who went to a mainstream school. Everyone else went to a special needs school. I was very fortunate that my parents chose to mainstream me and I was fortunate to go to an independent school here in Edinburgh.
I think that we have to set this debate in that historical context and recognise how far we have come—as a civic society, as politicians, and as educationists. There are many lessons that we need to learn and many of them have been highlighted by others today, but we have come a long way. We need to be encouraged by that. We are on a journey—the journey has taken us this far and we need to go further.
In the time that I have this afternoon, I would like to make two points about this. I think that the Deputy First Minister picked up this point in his speech and I was grateful that he did. When we talk about mainstreaming and education, we are not simply talking about what happens in lessons in the classroom.
Too often, we concentrate on whether we have the right provision when a child is in English or maths or whatever. That is vitally important and we should not play that down but if we see it as inclusion when somebody is isolated for the rest of their school experience, we are missing the point. What happens in the playground is probably as important, if not more important, as what happens in a primary school lesson. What happens and how a child is treated in the dining room is as important as what happens in the classroom. How we treat children in relation to physical education and other activities is also really important. We have lots of teachers who are able to think outside the box when it comes to such activities.
Speaking from my own experience, I was unable to participate in football, rugby or cricket as a player, but the school realised that I would be able to umpire, touch judge, or score the cricket matches. I was included in a way that I was able to benefit from and to build friendships on. Sometimes I think that we need to give headteachers and teachers the room to be able to think outside what they normally do so that a child always feels included. I fully agree with the comments made by Jackie Baillie and Tavish Scott regarding the support that we need to give our teachers and support teachers in that regard.
My other point is about the postcode lottery—or, to put it another way, the parentcode lottery. Although we can see that the presumption is for mainstreaming, we also know—and I think that the Scottish Government agrees—that the best interests of some children will be served not in a mainstream setting but in a school that meets their needs in certain ways.
What has surprised me, both from when I was a councillor on the City of Edinburgh Council and from my postbag as a regional MSP, is that, if those who want to choose for their children not to be mainstreamed but to go to a different type of school shout loudest—and, let us be honest, if they are middle class—they are far more likely to get a place in that school than others from the rest of our society. There is a challenge for local authorities and for us as politicians here to ensure that those who come from vulnerable backgrounds, whether that is economic, educational or family related, have the same opportunities as those like me who come from a privileged, middle-class background.
We have to be careful to treat every child as an individual. We have a presumption of mainstreaming, which I support fully and from which I benefited, but there will be times when it is not right for a child to be mainstreamed. As my colleague Liz Smith said, we must protect those schools that are providing those excellent services, both financially and in the way in which we speak about them, in the right way.
I, too, thank Enable for its report and the work that it is doing in this area. This has been a positive debate, and there is agreement. I would encourage us all: we are on a journey, we are perhaps halfway there, and we need to keep going in a cross-party spirit.15:47
In March, I led a members’ business debate on the subject of the presumption of mainstreaming, as addressed in the excellent Enable Scotland report “#IncludED in the Main?!” It is a measure of the importance that is placed on this subject by members of the Parliament that, by the time seven MSPs had signed my motion, every party in the Parliament was accounted for. I therefore warmly welcome this further opportunity to debate mainstreaming and, more important, the release of the “Consultation on Excellence and Equity for All”, which moves the discussion on. I am sure that Enable Scotland will be heartened to see the new guidance, which acknowledges, in a general sense, the validity of its concerns.
As the introduction to the draft guidance states,
“At present, despite the strength of the legislative and policy basis and the ambitious vision for all children and young people, more needs to be done, and more can be done, to get it right for every child and to ensure that they are all experiencing equity and excellence.”
As I did in March, let me declare an interest. My wife is a member of a hard-pressed additional support needs team in a secondary school. I know that I am not alone among MSP colleagues on this, but my passion for this subject is fired more by experience of constituency casework.
I entirely support the presumption in favour of mainstreaming, but the way in which it has been interpreted and implemented by some local authorities absolutely needs to be looked at. The document, the consultation and the accompanying research open the door to doing just that.
Let me focus on two specific points that are covered in the guidance, which have one thing in common: the fact that, in some instances, they are currently being approached in anything but the way in which the guidance anticipates.
Paragraph 32 addresses a situation in which it may be necessary to look to alternatives to mainstream settings for a child or young person, for example because their behavioural issues are such that they would not benefit from being in that environment and/or the education of other children would be impacted.
I suggest that, in reality, other than in the most extreme circumstances, pupils who are disruptive are being placed into mainstream environments, albeit some of the time they are perhaps being catered for in learning support bases, with little real regard for their impact on others. It is left to already hard-pressed staff to manage the situation as best they can.
Paragraph 33 covers the issue of unreasonable public expenditure and states:
“Each local authority ... has to consider what a reasonable level of public expenditure is within the context of their commitments.”
It focuses on a situation in which
“the cost of adapting a school environment to support ... one young person”
is prohibitive and accepts that, in such a case, perhaps alternative provision can be considered. Again, though, does that reflect how things are playing out currently, especially where an authority has few, if any, special schools at its disposal? Is it not all too often the case that, rather than sourcing or funding a relatively expensive specialist placement, some councils will persuade parents that they can accommodate their child within supported mainstream provision? However, in practice, that is very often done without providing the additional resources that are required to meet that pupil’s needs, while risking diminishing support for others. The draft guidance and the consultation on it have the potential to challenge and change that approach, where it exists.
As Liz Smith indicated, this is not an easy subject to consider with complete candour. For example, medical advances that have been made since 2000 mean that we have children with very complex needs being catered for in mainstream school settings in a way that almost certainly was not envisaged 17 years ago, with all the impact that that has on resources and, indeed, on the support that is being afforded to other ASN youngsters. Sitting alongside that are the expectation levels of some parents. When we look at matters dispassionately, we can find that there are unreasonable expectations in some cases. However, they are understandable if we put ourselves in those parents’ shoes. I have come across such situations in casework, but I have been struck far more by instances where the system as delivered is letting families down. That happens so often for avoidable reasons that have less to do with finances and more to do with lack of service cohesion or, sadly, the grasp of need.
To illustrate that latter point, I will highlight a case that I noted in the member’s business debate in March concerning a teenage constituent with complex needs who had been unable to attend the local secondary school base for some months. Ahead of an effort to try to reintegrate her, her mum was invited to visit the newly refurbished base facilities, which she had been told would be an asset in catering for her daughter, who is, among other things, autistic. However, the mum told me that the brand-new sensory room’s colour scheme was not autism friendly, that the room was tiny and that the soundproofing was so inadequate that, sitting in it, she could hear the kids passing in the adjoining corridor.
Ultimately, that case had a welcome outcome, as have others that I have been involved in. However, the stress for all concerned, over many months, was entirely avoidable. As the Enable report laid bare, that is not a unique experience. When parents and carers were asked to describe their experience of the school system, 67 per cent used the word “battle”, 77 per cent used the word “stressful” and 44 per cent used the word “alone”.
I will finish on a couple of optimistic notes. First, as we are hearing in the debate, the publication of the “Consultation on Excellence and Equity for All” has reignited the debate around what the presumption in favour of mainstreaming is. That is a good thing, and I hope that the measured, constructive tone that is being taken in the debate is the shape of things to come. Secondly, I have—admittedly with mixed success—sought to engage with secondary schools in my constituency on how they intend to deploy the pupil equity fund moneys that are coming their way. To be honest, I was a bit worried that, when schools were spending that money, many ASN pupils would be forgotten or their interests would be pushed to the bottom, but what I have found is the reverse of that. Those schools are working with cluster primaries in a way that, among other things, gives rise to the hope that the needs of all youngsters will be identified early and met as they progress through their educational journey. Pupil equity funding has the potential to change things for the better; so, too, does this guidance and its accompanying research.15:53
Delivering an inclusive educational environmental for all speaks directly to the kind of society that we aspire to be. As other members, including Jenny Gilruth and lain Gray, have said, for far too long young people with additional needs have suffered exclusion from education and from society as a whole. Ensuring access to mainstream schools has been a central demand of the movement for equality for disabled people in the United Kingdom, and, indeed, globally for some time. The right to participate in mainstream education is now enshrined in article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which sets out that individuals must not be excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability and that they must be able to access inclusive and quality education on an equal basis with others.
The Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc Act 2000, which was mentioned earlier, sought to put that right into domestic law by introducing the presumption to mainstream. It means that the default option for all is a mainstream school, ensuring that young people with disabilities and other additional needs have access to a mainstream education. However, it does not mean that the education is automatically inclusive. Mainstream education is not the same as inclusive education. It can and should be a gateway to an inclusive education, but the reality for young people with additional needs in mainstream schools is often far from inclusive.
Since 2010, education spending in Scotland has dropped by about 4.3 per cent in real terms. That means that, each year, about £490 less is being spent per primary school pupil, and £150 less per secondary pupil. It has led to there being over 500 fewer specialist additional support needs teachers and to a loss of about one in 10 additional support needs support staff, and that is at a time when we are identifying more additional support needs among pupils. One pupil in four has such needs—although, as Liz Smith noted, there are issues with the consistency of identification that we certainly need to address. For example, North Lanarkshire, which was mentioned earlier, has an identification rate of about 6 or 7 per cent, whereas West Dunbartonshire has a rate of over one in three children. Those are demographically similar areas and the children come from similar backgrounds, yet there is quite a significant difference.
That has heaped significant additional pressures on teachers, leading to a decline in their working conditions. A recent report by Bath Spa University that has been mentioned in the chamber a number of times in recent weeks describes working conditions in Scottish schools as being “extremely poor” at present. Teachers have less time to spend with each pupil and, with the loss of specialist ASN teachers, the expertise that is necessary to help some pupils is being lost.
Enable Scotland, which has quite rightly been praised by almost every speaker in the debate so far, found that the vast majority of the education workforce—teachers and support staff—do not feel that teacher training and other training have adequately prepared them to teach and support young people with learning disabilities and that there is a lack of support for staff to do that. That has left more than half of our children and young people with learning disabilities feeling that they do not get the right support in school. Pupils are attending mainstream schools, but they are excluded. Whether that involves informal exclusion from class or pupils not being able to take part in school trips or participate in sporting activities, that exclusion is real.
Like other members, I spend a significant amount of my time speaking to teachers. They are working incredibly hard under very difficult conditions to provide an inclusive learning environment, but they are being let down as austerity takes hold in Scottish schools. The challenges here are significant. It is already difficult to provide high-quality training to new teachers who are undergoing their initial teacher education. One year, which is the time for most teachers, is not enough to become an expert on such a vast range of additional needs. In speaking to trainee teachers, I have heard how education on additional support needs can vary significantly between different university courses. Some are excellent and comprehensive and prepare trainee teachers well for the classroom, but others, unfortunately, fall short. Many are somewhere in the middle.
A lot of training on additional support needs takes place in schools, but it is significantly dependent on the trainee teacher being placed with a teacher who has both the relevant experience and knowledge and the necessary capacity. If a trainee teacher is placed with a teacher who is already overburdened, who is struggling with poor working conditions or who does not have the relevant experience or knowledge, the skills are not passed on, and young people are suffering as a result.
I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to work with the General Teaching Council for Scotland and Education Scotland on additional needs in teacher training, further research on the experiences of pupils with additional needs and the development of further resources for staff. I look forward to receiving further details of the actions that the Government intends to take in that regard.
With many new teachers undergoing the one-year course, it is vital that further training opportunities are available. As I said, initial teacher education can often provide only a baseline of experience on additional needs. It is through continuing professional development that teachers have the opportunity to enhance their ability to support pupils. However, with such high workload pressures as a result of staff shortages, teachers often do not have the time that they need to engage in that further training, and austerity has led directly to the erosion of CPD budgets.
The updating of the guidance on the presumption of mainstreaming is a welcome step. The guidance was issued some time ago—I think that I was still at the infant end of my primary school at the time. The situation, as well as our understanding, has moved on considerably since then, so the updating is a welcome and necessary step. However, we must not pretend that new guidance or even the policy in itself will be enough to create an inclusive learning environment for all pupils in Scotland. From today’s debate, I am reassured that we clearly, on a cross-party basis, do not kid ourselves in that regard.
The Government is committed to the principle of inclusive education—of that, I have no doubt—but it must get to grips with the issues that are preventing that in practice. For example, it is not enough to provide targeted pupil equity funding, although Graeme Dey made the point very well that that is absolutely welcome and it is making a difference. What is required is action to reverse the damage of the past decade and allow councils and schools to deliver the support that young people with additional needs require. That means a fair funding package for our local councils. The Government must also explore other levers to ensure that the right priority is being given to additional support needs provision in mainstream schools.
The inspection regime, for example, does not place sufficient emphasis on assessing that. With some adjustment, it could be a powerful tool in ensuring that correct priority is given to the inclusion agenda.
If we are to really, in the words of the Scottish Government,
“bridge the gap between legislation, policy and the practical experience of children, young people and their families”,
we must address the funding issue with some urgency. Only then can we ensure that all young people in Scotland, whatever their needs, can reach their full potential.16:00
I am pleased to be able to take part in the debate, as the presumption of mainstreaming has been a topic that has come up a fair number of times with my constituents, particularly in relation to children who are on the autism spectrum. I have had quite a number of cases in which parents and nursery schools have felt that mainstream primary 1 would not work for a child, but Glasgow City Council insisted on mainstreaming. Bob Doris talked about that issue.
The draft guidance is, broadly, good. It weighs up various factors that have been raised with me. For example, paragraph 4 lists the four key features of inclusion, which are that the child is present, participating, achieving and supported.
When I was younger, many young people with additional needs were hidden away in places such as Lennox Castle hospital near Glasgow, and some of the rest of us used to visit them once in a while. The fact that we now have a more mixed cohort in mainstream schools is a major improvement, but sometimes we have to ask—as members have asked this afternoon—how well some kids are participating.
There is certainly concern among some parents that their children are not getting the individual support that they need in a mainstream school, perhaps because of lack of staff. However, I accept that some parents can be overly protective of their kids. Paragraph 48 of the draft guidance makes the point that we need to retain high expectations for all our children and young people, which will sometimes mean pushing them out of their comfort zones. The example that is given in the guidance is Cardinal Winning secondary school in my constituency, of which I and the community think very highly.
The process of taking kids out of their comfort zones can be expensive in terms of staff time and, therefore, money. I saw a good example of that a few years ago, when I visited Falkland House school in Fife, which Liz Smith spoke about. It focuses on boys with autism. One thing that it did was to have youngsters apply for a real job cutting grass around the school. Of course, some of them did not get a job and, being autistic, they were, to be frank, distraught. However, it was a learning experience for those young people to enable them to handle setbacks in the future. Not many schools could have done such an exercise, because it was so resource intensive.
It is also apparently the case at Falkland that virtually all the boys were from families with well-educated and better-off parents who had pushed and pushed for that provision. Jeremy Balfour spoke about such parents. Only one child from Glasgow was at the school, but I do not believe that only one child in Glasgow needed that provision. I have had the same experience with friends of mine: parents who have been more able to challenge their council have achieved better outcomes for their children.
The draft guidance is open about that issue, which is good. The example at paragraph 59 is New Stevenston primary, where apparently
“Some parents feel they ‘had to fight’ to get a placement”.
If I have a question for the cabinet secretary, it is the one that Jeremy Balfour asked. How do we ensure that youngsters whose parents are less able—or less combative—get the most suitable provision for them?
If any of that sounds a bit critical of local authorities, especially Glasgow City Council, I also want to say how much good I have seen in the Glasgow system. One of the big advantages of having schools that are run by the council is that expertise and support on specialist issues can be shared across them, and in Glasgow the system is of the scale to provide special schools and support to mainstream schools.
To change tack, I will mention the Islands (Scotland) Bill, which might seem to be a little bit off the immediate subject for debate. I am a member of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, which has been doing a fairly thorough job on the bill, having visited a number of islands. One of the proposals in the bill is for an islands impact assessment to ensure that the impact of any policy or guidance, such as that which we are discussing, on island communities is considered. When I looked at the draft guidance to see whether it includes an islands perspective, I was interested to see the suggestion in paragraph 21 that pupils might attend two separate schools. That might be fairly easy in a city, but would certainly be much more challenging on an island.
That said, I thought that paragraph 26 was extremely good in its acceptance that
“Local circumstances can be very different”
and that the draft guidance itself does not overprescribe. That is the kind of flexibility that people on the islands are looking for. We will, no doubt, hear from them if it is not.
I was glad to see in the Conservative and Labour amendments recognition that the number of children with additional support needs is increasing, and that it would be a challenge to cope with that situation at any time, and especially when finances are tight. I am very open to some tax increases, assuming that we get more money from them and that such moves do not lead to widespread tax avoidance. However, even with increased revenue through taxation, resources will be tight, and we will not be able to do all that we want to do. I hope, therefore, that it will be recognised across the chamber that we all need to prioritise and that no one will get everything they want.
Finally, I think it worth my while to emphasise the point that is made in paragraph 29. We want our young people to meet learning targets and to have
“a full experience of school life”.
Jeremy Balfour mentioned that, too. Gone are the days of academic results being the be-all and end-all. When I met Universities Scotland representatives this morning, they made the point that employers are looking for graduates who are rounded and ready to start work, and not just the people who are most academically able.
For all our children, we want the best possible outcomes. To that end, I am happy to commend the draft guidance and the motion.
Thank you very much, Mr Mason. I call Monica Lennon, to be followed by Ruth Maguire. You can have an extra 30 or 40 seconds. Isn’t that exciting?16:06
You have made my day, Presiding Officer.
As many MSPs from across Parliament have, I have been raising concerns with the Scottish Government about the declining numbers of additional support needs teaching posts at a time when the number of pupils who are being identified as having additional support needs has rocketed. Each time I have raised the issue, the Scottish Government has provided explanations for why that has happened—one of the reasons being that the way in which additional support needs are defined and recorded has broadened over the years. I am not dismissing that explanation for the dramatic rise in the number of ASN pupils in our schools since 2010, but I hope that we can all agree that it does not answer the question why one in seven ASN posts has been cut from Scotland’s schools since that year. I also hope that we all recognise that that is no comfort to families who are struggling daily to access the necessary support.
It has been reassuring to hear colleagues from across the chamber reiterate their support for the presumption of mainstreaming and for inclusion in the education system. On the principles, there is no disagreement. Three teachers who have spoken—Liz Smith, Iain Gray and Jenny Gilruth—might come from different parties, but they have all brought the reality of the classroom into the chamber. From all the speeches, which have been thoughtful, it is clear that we all want a significant improvement in outcomes and less stress on the shoulders of hard-working staff.
However, our words, nice though they are, will not make the difference. What we need is action. Like others, I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government has today published its consultation on updated guidance on the presumption of mainstreaming, but I remain to be convinced that the content of that guidance will bring about the change that we need right across Scotland, and all the improvements that we want. For example, not a single extra penny has been identified for providing more support to our young people. Without resources to back up the sentiments, it is difficult to see how progress can begin.
That said, I am encouraged by the cabinet secretary’s commitment in the consultation document that
“we must improve the experience of inclusion for all pupils if we are to deliver on the promise of such an ambitious framework. Being present in a mainstream school should not be the primary marker of successful inclusion.”
I whole-heartedly agree with that sentiment, and believe that it strikes at the roots of the concerns of many parents and carers whose children with additional needs are in mainstream education.
As has already been pointed out during the debate, the Education and Skills Committee report into ASN is clear in its analysis. It says that
“the evidence points at a number of ways in which resources are not currently sufficient to support those with additional support needs in mainstream schools. The most notable factors are the reduction in the number of specialist staff in classrooms, the reduction in specialist support services and the reduction in special school places.”
The experts are clear that improving the experience of inclusion will therefore require a significant investment in resources, alongside revision of the guidance. The general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, Larry Flanagan, said that cutbacks mean that some ASN teachers fear that inclusive education is being done on the cheap.
Mainstreaming, as it currently stands, is failing too many of our young people. I was particularly struck by the briefings for today’s debate by Inclusion Scotland and Enable Scotland, which powerfully demonstrate the reality for our ASN young people. For example, when deaf or disabled pupils in mainstream schools cannot fully participate in extracurricular events such as school trips, or break-time activities, because of inadequate provision of support, we have not created adequate inclusion but further segregation and isolation.
On the substance of what action should be taken to improve the guidance and practice around the presumption of mainstreaming, I want to highlight two points that have been raised by members, and which I hope will be taken on board as part of the process.
First, as has been highlighted by Enable, there is a need to take urgent action to stop the practice of exclusion. A consequence of strained budgets and classroom resources is that types of informal exclusion, in particular for children with learning difficulties, whereby young people are removed from the classroom, can be used as an inappropriate way of resolving problems. I am sure that the cabinet secretary and the minister will take away the story that Jenny Gilruth shared about her pupil, Jamie. It is vital that the updated guidance address that point explicitly and that it makes clear that exclusions from school that are not properly recorded and justified are unlawful, and that that practice cannot be allowed to continue.
Secondly, there is a wider point that needs to be addressed around prejudice-based bullying. It is currently the case that there is no statutory duty for schools or local authorities to record incidents of bullying. Oliver Mundell made the point that disabled children are twice as likely as their peers are to be subjected to long-term bullying at school, but we have no adequate mechanisms for identifying and recording that type of prejudice-based harassment.
I am pleased to have had the chance to contribute some thoughts on an important subject. We all agree that the presumption of mainstreaming must be supported. However, it is time to match words with actions and to give all our additional support needs young people access to the resources and the support that they need for an inclusive education.
Ruth Maguire also has a little extra time.16:13
The commitment of Parliament to delivering inclusive education is not in doubt. However, as MSPs—and as parents, friends and family members—we are all aware of the challenges of delivering truly inclusive education in practice. I am aware of local concerns around things such as Education Scotland guidance not making reference to additional support needs, and we are all familiar with Enable Scotland’s “#IncludED in the Main?!” report, as well as the report by the Education and Skills Committee from earlier this year, both of which set out the many concerns that need to be addressed if we are to improve the experience of inclusive education for pupils, families, and teachers. We have rightly heard many of those concerns reiterated and underlined in today’s debate.
The Scottish Government is clearly listening and taking those concerns seriously. I welcome the forthcoming research that it has commissioned, as well as the revised draft guidance that has just been published and will be consulted on. Together with the results of the research, the consultation responses will feed into the final revised guidance, which I trust will address many of the current concerns.
I use this opportunity to provide my feedback on the draft revised guidance by focusing on the importance of inclusive play and nurture to the experience of children with additional needs at school. The draft guidance, under the heading “Participating”, states that
“All children and young people will have the opportunity to participate and engage as fully as possible in all aspects of school life, including school trips and extracurricular activity”.
That, of course, includes a child’s right to play, which is crucial to all aspects of the child’s development—social, emotional, intellectual and physical. The right of a child to play is unequivocally recognised in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which forms the legal basis for provision of inclusive education in general. It is also recognised in “Play Strategy for Scotland: Our Action Plan”, which was published by the Government in 2013 and affirms the commitment to enabling all children to realise their right to play.
In that context, it should concern us all that nearly half the children and young people with learning disabilities who took part in the Enable Scotland research reported that they do not get the same chances to take part in games in the playground as everyone else in their school. Similarly, a key finding of “Scotland’s Play Strategy: Playing with quality and equality: a review of inclusive play in Scotland” was that disabled children face multiple barriers to being able to play at school.
In order to enable all children to exercise their right to play, and to ensure that all children are included in all aspects of school life, it is clear that the provision of inclusive play must be improved. Where there are financial pressures, the good news is that inclusive play can be provided through simple low-cost and low-key measures. For example, one of the main barriers to inclusive play that has been cited is inflexible playground rules, including upper age limits on activities or areas, which exclude children who might still benefit from activities that are aimed at younger children or who have friends in younger classes. Changes to rules like those could be made sensibly and sensitively in order to facilitate more inclusive play. Others have reported adapting games, for example, by having basketball posts at different levels within a game, so that all children can play together—a straightforward and uncostly way to remove barriers.
Another significant issue for inclusive play is that there is a lack of general awareness and confidence among teachers about the value of play and how to provide play opportunities. I note that improved initial teacher training and continuing professional development relating to children with additional support needs are key recommendations of the Education and Skills Committee report and the Enable report. I hope that education on the importance of play provision—in particular, inclusive play—can be introduced to the discussion to ensure that teachers are aware of the many high quality and free resources that exist to support them.
For example, “Getting it Right for Play: A toolkit to assess and improve local play opportunities”, which was recently published by Play Scotland, is an invaluable resource that clearly delineates the 16 recognised types of play, the different benefits that they bring and how to facilitate them. Given the importance of play to all children, as well as the concerns that have been raised about inclusive play provision, it would be good to see some reference to play in the “Delivering Inclusion” section of the final guidance.
Many members, not least those of us who spoke in the Barnardo’s Scotland nurture week debate in February, will be aware of the positive and tangible effects of nurture groups on attainment and inclusion. Nurture is about having spaces where we support children to develop healthy and supportive relationships and attachments, where we make them feel valued by others and confident in themselves, and where we teach them how to communicate constructively and positively. That is important for all children, but it is particularly so for children who are more vulnerable to experiencing difficulties and exclusion.
Nurture groups offer the benefit of enabling children to remain part of their mainstream class, and they work at both primary and secondary school levels. They are an eminently sensible and feasible way to tackle in a meaningful and sustainable manner some of the most complex issues that children face from a very early stage. There is an important role for nurture groups as we focus on closing the attainment gap and creating a more truly inclusive educational experience for all our children. As with inclusive play, I would be pleased to see some reference to the contribution that could be made by nurture groups, as the final guidance is developed.
I echo the cabinet secretary’s encouragement to all interested parties to contribute to the consultation, so that we can continue to improve, and so that we can ensure that the policy intention of mainstreaming becomes a reality for all our children and young people.16:19
Deciding the best route for any child through education will always be tough. For every change in educational thought there will always be a question mark over its impact on some children, and never has that been truer than when it comes to children with additional support needs.
The context of the debate is key. In the 1970s and early 1980s, we rightly saw changes in thought with regard to the rights of children to be educated irrespective of their level of disability. In the early noughties, with the introduction of section 15 of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc Act 2000, it became an expectation that all children would attend mainstream school unless certain exceptional circumstances applied to them. Of course, I welcome the principle of mainstreaming where appropriate and where the correct support is provided, and that is why we will support the Scottish Government’s motion.
As Liz Smith pointed out, the issue is not with the legislation itself but with how it is interpreted by local authorities and how support is provided. If the legislation is intended to be in the best interests of the child, adhering to principles of social cohesion and integration that we all agree on, how do we ensure that the well-meaning policy is executed on a case-by-case basis so that the needs of individual children are always duly considered?
As members have highlighted, there are concerns about the support that pupils are getting. I have dealt with cases in my region in which parents have raised concerns about the support that their children have been getting at school. In one case, a child’s additional learning support outside the classroom was cut from around seven hours to one and a half hours.
Charities, too, have raised their concerns, as many members have mentioned. Last year, Enable Scotland reported that seven in 10 pupils with learning disabilities were not getting enough time or attention from teachers to meet their needs. In an Enable survey, a huge 85 per cent of young people with learning disabilities reported that they did not get the same chances to take part in games as everyone else in school. As Enable points out, those figures highlight that mainstreaming does not always mean inclusion. Simply being present at school does not mean that a child becomes, by default, a part of the spectrum of school life, and we must address that.
We need to look again at the context to understand the concerns that have been raised by charities. What support is there in mainstream schools? How consistent is that support across the 32 local authorities, and is the support at the level that it needs to be at? We know that there is disparity between local authorities’ definitions of additional support needs and what constitutes mainstreaming. Although the 2004 act established a broad definition of additional support needs, it falls to individual councils to define what constitutes additional support needs within those very loose boundaries, meaning that the occurrence of additional support needs across local authorities can range from just 6 per cent of pupils in North Lanarkshire to 35 per cent of pupils in Aberdeenshire.
Since 2012, the average local authority spend per additional support needs pupil has fallen by 11 per cent. Even if the spending decisions are being taken at the local level, we still need to take them into full consideration when discussing national legislation. The number of learning support staff in primary schools has been cut by 19 per cent over the past four years and in secondary schools there has been a 20 per cent reduction in the number of learning support staff. Over the same period, the number of behavioural support staff in primary schools has been cut by 58 per cent.
The country’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, has raised concerns over cuts to special school assistance provisions, highlighting that the cuts in numbers have left the teachers who are available to deal with children with learning disabilities stretched and unable to cope. The EIS has noted that teachers not being able to meet the pupils’ needs has damaged teacher morale and made teachers and their pupils feel undervalued and stressed.
On top of that, we know that 98 per cent of the education workforce feel that teacher training does not adequately prepare them for teaching young people who have learning disabilities and that 70 per cent of pupils with learning disabilities do not get the time or attention from teachers that is required to meet their needs. The pressures on teachers are rising, and many members who are in the chamber today would like to hear what is being done to reassure staff in mainstream education that they will begin to feel better equipped to support children with special educational needs.
It is correct to say that we have made significant strides in recent decades in ensuring that our children have been educated regardless of their disability, and I am pleased that the Government motion acknowledges the need to bridge the gap between legislation, policy and the practical experience of children.
Now, more than ever, it is important that we continue to make positive progress on this front, which is why local authorities and organisations must be given proper support. In recent years, we have seen a worrying trend in the budgets for pupils with additional support needs and that will only halt progress.
We need to look at the bigger picture and work closely across all our local authorities—and across this chamber, no matter which area we represent—to ensure that pupils with additional support needs continue to get the best opportunities when starting out in life.16:25
I support the motion and congratulate the Parliament and all Administrations on the presumption of mainstreaming.
All children and young people are entitled to and deserve to receive adequate and ample support in order to reach their full potential. That sentiment stands regardless of the child’s needs or individual requirements, whether they complete their education at a mainstream school or at an additional support school, as everyone in the chamber has reflected.
We must be mindful that children and young people with learning disabilities should not experience exclusion by their peers or from the curriculum; they should also not be excluded from opportunities, activities and social experiences that are an integral part of school life.
It is clear that aspects of the delivery of inclusive education have been a challenge, but it is one that is well worth taking on. A child-centred approach that includes input from the family and the school staff is vital. We must also look at the successes of that policy.
I am pleased that the achievement for pupils with additional support needs continues to rise—63.2 per cent of 2014-15 leavers with ASN left school with one or more qualifications at SCQF level 5 or better, which is an increase of 13.1 percentage points since 2011-12. It is also heartening that 88.6 per cent of pupils with ASN had a positive destination, which is an increase of 6.3 percentage points since 2011-12.
I will use my time to set out some examples from my constituency. Yesterday, I gave an example of mainstreaming in action. A case recently came to my attention of a young person in my constituency who is looked after by the local authority and has been placed in foster care. He is doing really well, despite an extremely difficult early life. Despite many discussions prior to his going into foster care querying whether he would be able to manage in a mainstream school, the young person has been placed in the local primary, where he is thriving. He is integrated in the community of his peers and friends and is part of the various things that go on in that community. He does not have to travel miles or get transport; neither is he stigmatised by the community.
For reasons of anonymity—I do not know how many foster kids are at the school—I will not be able to mention the school in question and give its staff the praise they are due, which is a shame. Needless to say, that school has worked extremely hard to make all that possible, which shows what can happen when decisions to support young people are made locally by teachers—primarily by headteachers—who best know their school communities and the networks around them.
Drumpark primary and nursery school is a fantastic additional support needs school in my constituency. Its vision is
“To put the care and welfare of each individual at the heart of a unique learning experience.”
This morning, children from Drumpark were singing at the launch of North Lanarkshire Council’s safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible and included indicators. I hope that the minister, Mark McDonald, enjoyed their performance.
On 15 November, Drumpark primary and nursery school and Greenhill primary school, which share a campus, are participating in a children’s march in Coatbridge to raise awareness of children’s rights in the community. They are bringing together all partnership agencies in order to do that. I hope to attend that event. That is an example of two schools—one a mainstream school and the other an additional support needs school—working together. There is a lot of overlap work, which is fantastic to see.
I must highlight that the success of mainstreaming is entirely dependent on how it is implemented. I, probably like every other MSP in here, receive a volume of different types of referrals relating to pupils with additional support needs. Some parents might think that the child should be educated elsewhere; other parents look for more support in the mainstream environment.
Unfortunately, I have experienced a sharp rise in referrals following North Lanarkshire Council’s decision to cut the hours of ASN support and the widely publicised further cuts to classroom assistants, which were also implemented recently. Although classroom assistants are perhaps not traditionally in place to assist children with additional support needs, we know that they have an overall effect in class. I have heard countless reports of children who were flourishing in mainstream education previously but are now struggling. Many teaching staff in my local authority area simply do not have the time to dedicate to children that they used to have.
We need to look at the wider picture. We need to think about the decision makers at Government and local authority level and how their decisions can be joined up. We have talked about that in many education debates.
Oliver Mundell talked about bullying. We must continue to support schools throughout the country to tackle bullying, which can be a massive issue for children with additional support needs. Responsibility cannot fall to just one headteacher or key teacher in that regard; there must be a culture in which it is emphasised that bullying will not be tolerated and everyone must be respected. We need to get that message out to young people at as early an age as possible.
Just last week I talked to senior pupils at St Andrew’s high school, in Coatbridge, who raised that issue. We talked about bullying in relation to young people’s mental health, and I was encouraged to hear young people talk about the issue so openly. We all agreed that a nurturing environment is very important. I think that all the schools in my constituency are working towards creating such an environment, but there is always more that we can do, at every level.
I welcome the new guidance and support, which aims to bridge the gap between legislation, policy and day-to-day experience. We must ensure that local authorities have the guidance that they require to help their decision making in applying the presumption of mainstreaming, so that they can implement policy efficiently and effectively.16:31
There was much in the cabinet secretary’s opening remarks with which we can all agree. He was absolutely right to emphasise the continuity of this Parliament’s approach and ethos since it came into being and the Labour and Liberal Democrat Administration gave effect to the principle of mainstreaming.
The evidence is that mainstreaming is underpinned by an important approach, whereby education is viewed as being about inclusion and the fulfilment of potential. The cabinet secretary made those points well.
Indeed, the cabinet secretary was right to say that mainstreaming is part of a rights-based approach. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is clear. Article 23 talks about the right of a child with a disability to a
“decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity”,
article 28 is about
“the right of the child to education”,
and article 29 says that education is about developing
“the child’s personality, talents and ... abilities”.
If we look beyond the presumption of mainstreaming to GIRFEC, curriculum for excellence and the overall child-centred approach to learning, we can see that such an approach is being taken.
There are two overarching and important ideas in that regard. First, the only things that should limit education are ability, talent and the child’s ambition. Secondly, and importantly, support is needed if such an approach is to be achieved. The mainstreaming of children with additional support needs brings that into sharp focus, because it brings the most challenges. It requires understanding and it requires support and intervention, which must be resourced.
I welcome the revised guidance. At its heart is that continuing ethos, which we welcome. As many members said, it clarifies the application of policy and legislation. I admit that—for once—I am pleased by some of the diagrams in the documentation that has been provided, because they provide clarity about how legislation maps on to practice. I welcome that.
That is a big breakthrough. [Laughter.]
I know. I thought that the cabinet secretary would think so.
Labour agrees with and supports much of what is before us today, and we will vote accordingly.
We must move beyond understanding, intent and terminology. As Monica Lennon said, we must have action. We need to measure what we seek to do through policy against the reality, and we must challenge and improve what is happening—and it is with improvement in mind that we make our case today.
Many members have referred to “#IncludED in the Main?!”, which is an excellent report. I could repeat many of the statistics that are set out in it, but Oliver Mundell put it well when he said that it is sad to see those numbers laid bare and to think about the reality that lies behind them. I will repeat just one statistic from the report, which is that 49 per cent of children with learning disabilities feel that they are not achieving what they might. That is the bar that we must measure ourselves against. We must look at the 22 recommendations in Enable’s report and identify what we can do to implement them. The Education and Skills Committee’s useful report on the subject has been mentioned by many, too. I highlight its finding that
“the additional support needs of a large number of children are not being fully met, and this impacts on their education”.
Between them, the reports identify three key issues: the first is about the consistency and quality of practice; the second is about the training of practitioners; and the third is about the resource that is needed for delivery. I will give a personal example to illustrate what I think should be done on practice. I was very lucky to be asked to sit in on a planning meeting for a child who was going into one of my local secondary schools. Obviously, I cannot go into any great detail, but I was struck by the fact that although the teachers were moving heaven and earth to deliver the support that the child required, when it came to the necessary resource being made available by the local authority, it could not deliver the support because the child did not meet the criteria. To my mind, that is entirely the wrong way round. The question that should be asked is, “What does this child need in order to survive and how can the local authority best deliver that?” It cannot be right to put criteria in front of that delivery.
Bob Doris made some extremely good points on practice. The shopping list that he snuck in at the end of his speech was excellent. He mentioned the transition from early years to primary school and from primary school to secondary school; standalone units; the estate; and referrals. Graeme Dey made similar points. Jenny Gilruth said that policy cannot be something that a headteacher prints off and that is looked at by him or her alone.
Co-ordinated support plans are in place for only 1.4 per cent of children with additional support needs. The number of children who attend specialist schools has dropped by almost 20 per cent, so there is clearly a gap. It simply cannot be right that so few ASN children have co-ordinated support plans, which are meant to bring to bear the resources to support them in their learning. Those conclusions are supported by “#IncludED in the Main?!”, and they are certainly supported by the Education and Skills Committee’s recommendation that there should be full quality assurance on the implementation of the policies in this area. When the cabinet secretary listens to what people say in response to the consultation, I ask him to look at the quality assurance measures on implementation.
Ross Greer made good points about training. A number of teachers and practitioners told the Education and Skills Committee that too much training is ad hoc. One person might receive training and then pass it on. There has been a reduction in postgraduate training on additional support needs, and many additional support needs posts do not require an ASN qualification. That cannot be right. We need to make sure that we have qualified people who have received the necessary training so that the support can be delivered. The key points that “IncludED in the Main?!” made in that area were on initial teacher education, continuous professional development and the inclusion of such issues in the curriculum.
I turn to the issue of resource. Iain Gray put it very well when he talked about his experience of what resource means in the classroom and what it enables teachers to deliver when it comes to additional support needs. The number of ASN-trained teachers has gone down by 26 per cent and there has been a reduction in the number of educational psychologists. The result of that is that many children who have apparently been mainstreamed only receive their mainstream education in a limited way—for example, they might get only one hour of provision per day or substandard provision in the classroom.
I note that my time is at an end. If we are to honour the rights that I set out at the beginning of my speech, which are set out in the UNCRC, we must back up understanding with practice, training and the necessary resources. If we do not, we will not honour the ambitions that have been set out with regard to those rights.
I call Michelle Ballantyne to close for the Conservatives. You have a generous nine minutes.16:39
I refer members to my entry in the register of interests, as I am the former head of service of Stable Life, a charity that works with children and young people who have additional support needs.
I have listened closely to the contributions this afternoon. They have been thoughtful and informed and, most pleasingly, have shown cross-party commitment to recognising and addressing the challenges that mainstreaming can bring. This is, without doubt, a complex and multifaceted debate, but it is a debate that we must have, and we must be willing to listen to and address uncomfortable and difficult evidence, because it is a question that we must get right. We owe that to our children and young people, to their parents, and to all the teachers, support staff and partner organisations that strive day after day to deliver inclusive and supportive education for every child.
I welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement, particularly on the independent research into the experiences of teachers, pupils and parents.
Liz Smith and Iain Gray, who are former teachers themselves, captured the plurality of the issues and implications that arise from the presumption of mainstreaming. Iain Gray particularly reminded us that young people who have additional needs are not asking us for something special. They are merely asking for the same opportunities that every other child has. We need to bear that in mind as we go through the challenges that we are going to face.
Liz Smith drew our attention to the evidence of trainee teachers to the Education and Skills Committee in May this year. That evidence painted an alarming picture of inadequate provision at teacher training level and of new teachers feeling isolated and overwhelmed in the classroom. One young probationary teacher said:
“We had all these wonderful theories thrown at us, but there was no contextualisation and no specific training on autism, dyslexia or dyspraxia—there was absolutely nothing.”—[Official Report, Education and Skills Committee, 10 May 2017; c 13.]
One fully qualified teacher went further, saying:
“We are seeing NQTs coming out who are really quite frightened by some of the behaviours that they see in classrooms and are very unclear about how to begin approaching that, never mind planning a personal learning programme.”—[Official Report, Education and Skills Committee, 10 May 2017; c 40.]
That was an experienced teacher crying out for help from the Scottish Government, and I hope that such pleas will not fall on deaf ears.
We have heard many of our colleagues—Iain Gray, Jenny Gilruth, Bob Doris, Tavish Scott, Ross Greer, Graeme Dey and many others—recognise that issue in their speeches. As many teachers feel cast adrift as they endeavour to deliver a bespoke education to every child, Enable tells us that 98 per cent of the education workforce surveyed felt that teacher training does not adequately prepare them for teaching young people who have additional support needs. We have today heard a lot of praise for Enable’s work and I add my voice to that, because Enable captured very well some of the challenges that we face. This is the reality on the ground. Without appropriate training and adequate resources, a teacher cannot meet the specific needs of ASN children, and their education will suffer as a result.
I recognise the words of the cabinet secretary and the minister when they talk about the increase in good results from ASN children, but the numbers have increased and some of the partners who work with them are often involved in delivering some of those good results. It takes a lot of people to get ASN children well supported and to get good results for them.
As Bob Doris identified in his excellent speech, the right support at the outset could mean that children could be retained in mainstream education. It is imperative that we do not put the criteria up as a barrier to addressing children’s needs. That is the paradox that we face that is at the heart of the Government’s support for mainstreaming.
The guidance talks about the importance of capacity building in mainstreaming, and the Government offers warm words about employed specialist support staff and a focus on the individual needs of the child. However, in the context of the recent cuts, such words sometimes seem hollow. As Annie Wells pointed out, the number of learning support staff in primary schools has been cut by 19 per cent over the past four years, and by 20 per cent in secondary schools in the same period. The number of behavioural support staff in primary schools has been cut by 58 per cent.
Bob Doris and Oliver Mundell powerfully evoked examples of informal exclusion and the troubling effect that that can have in isolating ASN children—in substance, if not in name. We need a good support staff to prevent that. A presumption of mainstreaming should not be a device to cut off access to a range of opportunities, including in special schools, and it should not be a presumption against special provision. There is a danger that, in its enthusiasm to create equity, the Government’s actions can give rise to an inequitable system that removes the rights of individual choice. There should be a choice, which must always be underpinned by the best interests of the child and their development.
That point was amplified by the comments of Jeremy Balfour, who rightly reinforced the fundamental need to ensure that inclusion is not just about what happens in the classroom and that we must keep the individual child at the centre of decision making. He also captured the issue about the background of the child not dictating their educational experiences and opportunities, and that point was reinforced in John Mason’s speech.
I am going to be way too quick, because the Presiding Officer gave me lots of extra time. [Interruption.]
Let Mr Doris in; you have complimented him, so he is desperate.
I am sorry; I did not hear him. He will have to shout louder.
You have to choose your language very carefully, Presiding Officer.
I thank the member for being complimentary about my speech. I was supportively critical of Glasgow City Council, but there are some wonderful specialist units in my constituency. In my speech, I did not praise some wonderful practice there, so I will talk about the hearing unit in St Roch’s school in Royston.
It is an intervention, Mr Doris, not a second speech. [Interruption.] Speak through the chair, Ms Ballantyne; we are falling apart now.
A question, please, Mr Doris. Something like that would be handy.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. You are so supportive.
Does the member agree that there are excellent examples of support in special needs education, including in my constituency at the hearing and visual unit at St Roch’s primary school and the autism unit at High Park school in Ruchill?
That is fine and that is enough, Mr Doris.
My apologies, Mr Doris. Yes, there are many examples of good support in specialist units and of good mainstream support, which is down to some very dedicated staff.
I want to pick up on a conversation that took place during the debate on the need for partnership working and for the recognition that it takes a family to raise a child. That comment is often heard in social work and additional needs support circles, particularly in relation to children who are looked after and accommodated, as many additional needs children are also looked after and accommodated.
We must recognise that, when being mainstreamed, many of those young people also spend time with partner organisations, many of which are in the voluntary sector. Engagement with organisations for a period a day, a day a week or, in some cases, two or three days a week to ensure that children get the best development and best results can make the difference as to whether they survive in mainstream schools.
Further, partnership working between teachers and specialists outwith mainstream education can be really beneficial to young people. I hope that that will be recognised when the Government does its work and brings forward guidance on the issue, because teachers cannot do that job alone. That is part of the reason why many teachers feel extremely stressed, because so many things are now pushed back on to teachers. I used to head up a drugs and alcohol service, but much of that work has now been pushed to teachers, who are expected to become experts in that field.
Members on the Scottish Conservative benches welcome this afternoon’s debate and the direction of travel that the Government is taking. The Scottish Government’s ambition to place the presumption of mainstreaming as the cornerstone of an inclusive approach to education is understandable.
However, as the evidence from today’s debate highlights, the presumption can also have manifest and detrimental effects on a child’s education if we do not get the delivery right. Indeed, the Scottish Government’s own guidance says:
“More needs to be done ... and more can be done ... to get it right for every child.”
The cabinet secretary knows that I fully support GIRFEC. If the Scottish Government is serious about getting it right for every child, it must first commit to getting it right for every teacher.
You must conclude there. Your time has been used up magnificently, Ms Ballantyne.
In good conscience, I ask members to support our amendment and our teachers.
There we are.
Mark McDonald will close for the Government. You have until 5 o’clock, minister.16:50
I was grateful when Michelle Ballantyne ran out of things to say, because I have a lot to get through. Alas, it was not to be.
It is okay—I shall crack on anyway.
Michelle Ballantyne spoke about the point raised by the cabinet secretary, which I reiterated in an intervention on Mr Gray, about the increase in positive outcomes. She said that it could be explained by the fact that the number of children with additional support needs has increased. However, we are talking about percentages. It is true that the global sum has increased, but so too has the percentage of children in that total who are achieving positive outcomes. Therefore, whether one looks at it as a global sum or as a percentage, the trajectory is positive.
The Government’s approach to children and young people in general is underpinned by our commitment to the principles of getting it right for every child. The key word in that is “every”. We should view every child in Scotland as a unique individual capable of achieving his or her full potential, whatever that may be. That is no different for children with additional support needs and disabilities. I will come back to that as I go through the discussion that has taken place over the debate. As members have rightly highlighted, there is still a journey for us to travel.
Liz Smith asked about what underpins decisions on mainstreaming and the factors that motivate some of those decisions. We have reiterated in the guidance that there are three clear exemptions from mainstream education: where mainstream education would not be suited to the ability or aptitude of the child; where it would be incompatible with the provision of efficient education for the children with whom the child would be educated; and where it would result in unreasonable public expenditure being incurred that would not ordinarily be incurred.
The interesting thing is that the resource question is not being framed in the way in which members have suggested. Several members have suggested that mainstreaming is being used as a means to save money. In fact, often in the situations that members describe, that is not the outcome. It is not something that should be used as a motivation in such decisions, because the reverse is often true in relation to the support that is required for those pupils.
Iain Gray said that the positive outcomes that had been highlighted to him were a testament to the hard work of teachers and support staff, and that is absolutely the case. The Government recognises the hard work and dedication of those staff members. I hope that one of the messages to come from the Parliament—it has been loud and clear—is how much we value the work that those staff are doing in our schools.
The minister’s point is entirely fair, but he must also accept that those teachers need more support from us than simply warm words—they need the resources to do the job that they do so well.
Let me turn to the question of resource, which I was going to come to a little bit later. The local government financial statistics for 2015-16 show that the spend on education was £4.9 billion across Scotland. That is a 2.7 per cent increase on 2014-15 in cash terms and a 1.9 per cent increase in real terms. Of that total, £584 million was spent on additional support for learning, which is an increase of £5 million on the previous year’s figure. We have seen increases in expenditure. I will come back to points around resources a little later on.
With Jamie’s story, Jenny Gilruth highlighted some of the important questions that we need to face. Several members from across the chamber brought up the question of how the exclusion of children works. We are clear that exclusion must be viewed as a last resort. Other members referred to how we categorise and gather data on informal exclusion within the school building. There are issues about how easy it would be to capture such data without creating an additional burden, but we will consider that.
Bob Doris asked about guidance on transitions. Such guidance is included in the code of practice for ASL and there are duties on education authorities around planning for transitions. I am working to develop a framework for supporting children and young people who are affected by disability and their families. Part of that work will look at how we ensure that transitions are managed effectively and appropriately.
Jackie Baillie and a number of other members highlighted the work of Enable Scotland. We are pleased that we were able to work on the development of the guidance with Enable, which has been positive about the work that was done and about the guidance itself.
A number of members, including Jeremy Balfour, made the point that this needs to be about more than just children’s presence in the classroom. Page 5 of the guidance, under the heading “participating”, states that one of the key expectations is that
“All children and young people will have the opportunity to participate and engage as fully as possible in all aspects of school life including school trips and extracurricular activity”.
We recognise that we must ensure that the entire experience for children is inclusive and that it is not simply about ensuring that they can gain access to the classroom and the educational opportunities that are contained within it.
Graeme Dey made a balanced speech, as did many other members, in which he highlighted local concerns that members across the chamber will recognise from their postbags. He highlighted examples of where things are not necessarily working in the best interests of children and families; he also highlighted positive examples of work that is being done to provide positive outcomes for children and young people. He gave an example of a positive use of pupil equity funding in his constituency, which I am sure that we could all echo with examples from our own communities and schools.
Monica Lennon highlighted the issues affecting deaf pupils. The Government recently launched the British Sign Language national plan, part of which will be about driving inclusion for BSL users and deaf pupils. We hope to see improvement on the back of the targets that have been set in the plan.
Monica Lennon also mentioned exclusion, which, as I said, must always be a last resort. She also spoke about bullying, as did a number of other members. The Government made clear commitments in relation to prejudice-based bullying in our evidence to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, and I am aware that the committee is seeking an opportunity to bring a debate on prejudice-based bullying to the chamber to allow all members to have their say on the issue. I look forward to those discussions continuing.
Fulton MacGregor cited a number of positive outcomes. He mentioned Drumpark primary, and I had the great pleasure of meeting Drumpark primary pupils today at the launch of the GIRFEC toolkit in Uddingston, where they put on a fantastic performance. He highlighted the important work being done at Drumpark primary and Greenhill primary, which, given the impact on the pupils from those schools, is a positive example of the co-location of mainstream and ASN facilities and of co-working.
I declare an interest as the parent of a child with additional support needs. The school that my son attends is a co-located mainstream and ASN facility. It is a fantastic example that shows how the benefits of co-location are delivered not just to the pupils with additional support needs but to the mainstream pupils, who get the opportunity to interact with pupils with additional support needs and thereby learn a great deal about the citizenship elements of the curriculum for excellence.
A number of points about resources have been made. John Mason highlighted the important point that we need to have a debate about not just resources but prioritisation. There is a debate to be had about the priorities that we attach to resources. The Government is willing to listen to such a debate and to consider members’ asks.
A number of Conservative members focused on budgets and said that they want to see more spend. I say gently to them that they cannot come to the chamber and continually ask for additional spend across a range of areas, including education, when they are part of a party that at UK Government level is driving forward austerity, which is impacting on this Parliament’s budget. Beyond that, the Conservatives in this Parliament are proposing a taxation policy that would see a £140 million reduction in public spending. I am willing to have a debate with members across the chamber about resources and prioritisation, but the Conservatives must start from a position of at least some self-awareness when they talk about the allocation of public resources.