Additional Support Needs and the use of Co-ordinated Support Plans in Scotland
A blog by Professor Sheila Riddell, Director of Centre for Research in Education Inclusion and Diversity and Chair in Inclusion and Diversity, University of Edinburgh.
According to the Annual School Census published by the Scottish Government in December 2018, the number of Scottish school pupils with additional support needs (ASN) has risen from 118,034 in 2012 to 199,065 in 2018, an increase of 68.7 per cent. Pupils identified as having some sort of ASN now make up more than 27% of the total pupil population.
Over the same period the number of pupils with a Co-ordinated Support Plan (CSP) has decreased from 3,448 to 1,986, a drop from 2.9 per cent to 1.0 per cent of those with ASN. Prior to the passage of the Additional Support for Learning (ASfL) Act in 2004, about 2 per cent of pupils in Scotland had a statutory support plan. When the CSP replaced the Record of Need (RoN) in 2004, the Scottish Government promised that there would be no decline in the proportion of children receiving a statutory support plan. This has clearly not been the case – since 2011, there has been a year-on-year reduction in the number of CSPs opened, and if this trend continues they may virtually disappear. Should we be concerned?
Our research, conducted over the past thirty years, suggests ongoing tensions between local authority and parental views of CSPs. Local authorities are largely unconcerned about the decline in the use of CSPs, regarding them as cumbersome and time consuming. A number of local authorities question parental (and, since 2018, children’s) rights to mount legal challenges through the Additional Support Needs Tribunals for Scotland and are unhappy about the allocation of resources to individual children. Local authorities argue that they prefer to use other types of plan such as Child’s Plans, despite the fact that these are not specifically education documents and have no directly enforceable rights associated with them. Parents, on the other hand, believe that statutory plans are important to ensure that children’s needs are properly assessed, recorded and reviewed.
There are mixed messages from the Scottish Government on the importance of CSPs. On the one hand, in 2009 new duties were placed on local authorities to provide CSPs for looked after children and in 2018 a range of new rights were given to children aged 12-15 including the right to request a CSP and to request particular types of assessment . At the same time, the Government has failed to ensure that local authorities are fulfilling their existing duties, effectively ignoring the declining use of CSPs.
Our research suggests that there is widespread grassroots confusion around the ASfL legislation. The law states that a child requires a CSP if they need support due to complex or multiple factors that adversely and significantly affect their school education; have needs that are likely to last for more than a year; and need significant additional support from the local authority and another department of the local authority (such as social work services), or another agency (such as health boards, career services, colleges or universities), or both, to reach their educational goals. These criteria have led to disputes about what counts as significant additional support and have distracted attention from the child and their needs.
Overall, at a time when local authority budgets are being squeezed, I believe that a number of changes are needed. First, the qualification criteria for a CSP should be simplified, so that a child should be entitled to a statutory support plan if they require support that is not normally available in school, ending fruitless arguments about what counts as significant support from other agencies. Secondly, there should be ongoing training for local authority and school staff, so that there is better understanding of the ASfL system in general, including statutory entitlements. Finally, the delegation to schools of responsibility for drawing up and reviewing CSPs has clearly not worked, and there needs to be a team within each local authority with clear responsibility for the administration of CSPs, ensuring equity in their use across different areas and social class groups. Far from being obsolete, I believe that in the present social and economic context statutory support plans are more important than ever as a means of supporting the rights of children and young people with ASN and their families.