Request for Deputation
- Meeting of Education Operational Delivery Committee, Thursday, 17th January, 2019 10.00 am (Item 4.)
The Committee had before it a request from Dr Alison Murray to address the Committee in respect of item 9.2 on the agenda (The Inclusion Review and Out of Authority Placements).
Dr Murray advised that she helped to run a parent/carer support group for children with additional support needs, noting that they were grateful to the Council for providing accommodation for the group, and to Lesley Stopani who had previously attended meetings of the group and would be attending the next meeting in order to maintain a link with parents.
Dr Murray noted that the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 29) stated that education should be directed to “The development of the child’s personality, talents and physical abilities to their fullest potential”, and those rights had been embedded in Scots Law in the Standards in Scotland’s Schools Act 2000. In addition, she noted that the Act required that such education should be provided in mainstream schools unless it would not be suitable for the ability or aptitude of the child or would cost too much.
Dr Murray advised that the Scottish Government’s draft guidance on the presumption of mainstreaming made it clear that mainstreaming and inclusion were not the same thing. Inclusion was about the importance of children being included no matter what setting they were in, whereas the key features of inclusion were ‘present, participating, achieving and support’. She added that young people spoken to by Education Scotland felt that friendship and belonging were importance for inclusion. Dr Murray stated that a recent report presented to the Scottish Government (“Not included, not engaged and not involved”) had found there was growing concern about the education experience of pupils with additional support needs, and in particular, autistic children. Many autistic children were not having their right to an education fulfilled and were missing a significant and concerning amount of school. Dr Murray noted that this included formal exclusion, and added that the support group were pleased to see from the committee report that these were decreasing in Aberdeen. She did however note that children could be excluded from education in other ways, including the extended use of part-time timetables, missing school due to anxiety, or a lack of suitable school placement or support which would mean a child was unable to be in school or refused to attend. Dr Murray mentioned that the support group were aware of approximately 22 children out of school or on a long-term part-time timetable in Aberdeen and suggested there may be others. She stated that part-time timetables should not be used as a way of managing pupils’ additional support needs and should only be used for short periods. Dr Murray added that several of these children were out of school long-term and not receiving any education despite it being a legal requirement. She also noted that exclusion of children from education was occurring through families being called to pick up children early on a regular basis, with some parents advising that they had to carry a phone with them constantly and that they were unable to work due to being called to pick up their child. Dr Murray stated that this was unlawful exclusion and that she felt it was a sign that the child was not being adequately supported in school.
Dr Murray stated that being out of school was an obvious measure of lack of support, however she noted that many others were struggling in mainstream classes with insufficient support or being excluded internally by being taken out of the classroom. She added that such internal exclusion had been incorporate into the new Aberdeen Autism Strategy as “consideration of flexible spaces within the school environment…for instance, the use of sensory friendly spaces where individuals can experience the curriculum”. Dr Murray stated that take this to its extreme, it could mean internal exclusion which took the form of seclusion with a child being shut somewhere alone and not being allowed to leave. She advised that the Children’s and Young People’s Commissioner reported last month that the use of seclusion ran the risk of significant breaches of law and children’s rights, but she noted that Aberdeen City Council were unable to provide any data on its use in Aberdeen. Dr Murray noted that internal exclusion to other spaces might be necessary due to sensory overload in the classroom environment, however many schools in Aberdeen did not have the space to allow creation of ‘escape spaces’. She added that they also did not offer support or space at unstructured times, such as break, which could be particularly challenging for a child.
Dr Murray advised that the support group had been encouraged to hear from Lesley Stopani that she would like a building audit of all city schools for autism friendliness, noting that she had a good understanding of the impact on an inappropriate environment on children with additional support needs, particularly autism. However the support group had been disappointed to note that this had not been included in the Autism Strategy, given the Council’s responsibilities regarding the Equalities Act in ensuring reasonable changes were made to the built environment to prevent disabled people from being disadvantaged. Dr Murray added that the 2014 Inclusion Review aimed to ensure that the education service provided a continuum of support provision in Aberdeen, but noted that there was no real grading of support between what was provided in the specialist bases of Mile End and Bucksburn and mainstream.
She advised that the Enable report “Included in the Main” had found that 52% of young people with learning disabilities and/or autism felt that they were not getting the right support in school, with only 49% feeling that they had achieved their fullest potential in school, with a third feeling that they could not take part in work in class. Dr Murray noted that the number of children in Aberdeen with autism was increasing year on year and was up 60% since the publication of the Inclusion Review, with 536 children with diagnosed autism in Aberdeen in 2017. She also noted that social, emotional and behavioural difficulties were linked to deprivation together with much of the resources, disabilities measured against absolute categories (for example, autism or dyslexia) were not.
Dr Murray added that the support group had heard of an increasing number of parents looking beyond local authority schools to get support that they did not find available in mainstream education, with eight families considering out of authority placements and several more at an early stage of enquiring about alternative schools. She advised that there was still a need for specialist resource bases like the previous MICAS bases to ensure that children, who she felt were currently being failed in mainstream schools, could be included, educated and reach their full potential, however there should still be the opportunity in all schools for children to be taught life skills, social understanding and specialist employability skills. Dr Murray noted that children and young people with autism had an emotional age which was a third younger than their chronological age, and therefore certain aspects of the curriculum, including personal and social education, should be taught separately to the mainstream, at a level more appropriate to their needs. She added that the difference in emotional age meant that it could be difficult for these children to form friendships, with 60% of children with learning disabilities feeling lonely in school, and noted that specialist provision enabled them to form friendship groups with similar peers.
Finally, Dr Murray noted that the support group was heartened to see that the committee report had outlined the initiatives in place for looked after children in Aberdeen, and encouraged similar investment in services for children with other additional support needs who were currently in mainstream schools. She added that the group agreed that short-term financial savings had been made in out of authority placements as a result of the Inclusion Review however they felt that the current system led children to fail to be present, participating, achieving and supported which would mean that there would be an increasing number of parents looking to out of authority placements for their child. She added that there should be reconsideration of the introduction of specialist units within mainstream, particularly in academies, for children with additional support needs, especially autistic children. Dr Murray concluded by noting that Article 23 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child required that a disabled child received education in a manner conducive to the child achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development but that she did not feel this was happening for many children at the moment. She stated that she was sure the Committee would agree that measures should be taken to ensure that this was achieved for all children in Aberdeen.
Members then asked questions of Dr Murray.
The Committee resolved:-
to thank Dr Murray for her deputation.