With the COVID-19 pandemic coming to an end, some people face the silent epidemic that is a lack of care for vulnerable people. This article will look at what special educational support is available in Scotland…

If the pandemic has proved anything, it’s that vulnerable people need more support across the UK. In recent years, SEN solicitors have reported an increase in enquiries from people who feel that the Scottish government has failed them in terms of providing adequate special education support.

In this article, we’ll examine the support that is currently available, as well as the Scottish parliament’s plans for the future.

What is Special Education?

Special education is designed to support children and adults who have a disability and who may struggle within a standard school or class. Special education comes in a wide range of shapes and sizes and is by no means ‘one size fits all’. While some individuals may attend a specialist school, others may spend some or all of their time within a general class (known as the least restrictive environment). 

Who Qualifies for Special Educational Needs in Scotland?

Individuals may qualify for special education if they have difficulties with:

  • Communication and interaction with others
  • Cognition and learning
  • Social, emotional and / or mental health
  • Sensory and / or physical needs

Specialists, teachers, and voluntary organisations will usually be able to help with diagnosing the need for special education.

What SEN Services are Available in Scotland?

Scotland’s aim is for all children and young people to receive the support that they need in order to achieve their learning potential. As such, a number of amendments have been made to the Education Scotland Act 2016. These amendments include an extended support system and dispute resolution. 

Every education authority in Scotland must take account of the education needs of all children and make appropriate arrangements for individuals to receive additional support where needed. 

There are currently 19 special needs schools in Scotland, all of which are members of Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS). These schools have been created to address the educational needs of those with severe learning difficulties, for whom regular classroom education is not possible.

An Update to Special Education

For those who are able to attend state or public schools, education authorities are tasked with ensuring that special needs are recognised and diagnosed, and that the correct level of support is provided.

In 2012, the Doran Review was published by the Scottish Government which contained some key recommendations, including:

  • National funding to the value of £11million for children with complex ASN should be retained.
  • A national strategic planning and commissioning process should be developed for children with complex ASN.
  • There was recognition of the continuing need for specialist services.
  • The revenue grant provided to the Grant Aided Special Schools, of which Harmeny is one, should continue for up to five years.

In addition to the above, it was recommended that there was a need for further needs analysis for children with complex ASN and that the development of a strategic commissioning model for future allocation of funding was necessary.

Is There Enough SEN Support in Scotland Currently?

It’s estimated that around 9 percent of children and young people in Scotland have a health condition or disability, which equates to approximately 44,000 people

Although the Scottish Government’s pledge looks good on paper, a poll by ENABLE Scotland revealed some concerning statistics, including:

  • 85% of the young people surveyed said that they were excluded from opportunities which are offered to other pupils.
  • 94% of parents feel that schools do not receive adequate resources to support those with learning difficulties.
  • 70% of children said that they lacked support.

Jan Savage, Executive Director of campaigns, says:

‘We want to get a picture of what education is really like for young people who have additional support for learning needs, including learning disabilities. It is clear at this point that we are not getting it right for too many children who have learning disabilities in Scotland’s schools, a picture underpinned by the fact that additional support needs staff have been cut by 10 per cent since 2010.” 

While this concern is shared by Jim Thewliss, General Secretary of School Leaders, Scotland, a spokesperson for Cosla said:

 “While councils are under huge resource pressure, there can be no suggestion that local government is doing anything other than delivering on its legal responsibility to children with additional support needs. This rather gloomy survey fails to convey firstly the good job councils are doing in this area and secondly the complexity of the issue at stake or the dedication shown by staff, schools and local authorities to children in their care.”

The concerns raised by a number of institutions in Scotland are mirrored by the fact that, in 2021, it was revealed that the number of pupils identified as having ASN had increased by 97.8886 while the average spend per pupil had decreased by 24.6 percent.

It’s all well and good having good intentions…

While there are undeniably good intentions at work in the arena of Scotland’s special education services, it’s clear that more resources are needed in order for improvements to be made.

This is highlighted by the fact that, while there has been a sharp rise in those with special education needs in Scotland, the figures in England have dropped by 24 percent and yet, more funding and resources are available south of the border

Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash