Charities welcome today’s independent review into Additional Support for Learning from Scottish Government but make urgent call for autism awareness training for all teachers
Three Scottish charities have welcomed today’s report from independent chair Angela Morgan into Additional Support for Learning (ASL). Commissioned by Scottish Government, the report; ‘Support for Learning: All our Children and All their Potential’ highlights that despite the hard work of many dedicated professionals, ASL is not visible or equally valued within Scotland’s education system. Consequently, implementation of policies and legislation is fragmented and inconsistent meaning that children often do not get the vital support they need to flourish and fulfil their potential.
The charities welcome the important recommendations which if acted upon would make a real difference to the 6500 autistic children across Scotland and all children with additional support needs.
While the recommendations on teacher education and development are very welcome the charities argue this must include autism awareness training for teachers, which was a central call from the ground-breaking Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved report, published in 2018. In line with the feedback to the Review from children and young people, more knowledge and understanding of their needs would help achieve our hopes in education and learning for all children.
As part of the charities’ Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved report, a survey of 1,417 parents and carers of autistic children revealed that many autistic children were not receiving the support they need to succeed at school and achieve their potential.
Worryingly, more than a third (34%) of respondents said their autistic child had been unlawfully excluded in the last two years - with almost a quarter (22%) saying this happened multiple times a week. The principle reason given was that appropriate support was often not in place which led to children struggling in school and developing distressed behaviour through no fault of their own. Since the report’s publication the charities have not been assured that the incidence of unlawful exclusion is monitored or addressed.
Children in Scotland, the National Autistic Society Scotland and Scottish Autism have worked with the Scottish Government and key partners on a raft of changes that would ensure new teachers receive autism awareness and understanding training as part of their Initial Teacher Education.
However, these have yet to be announced and with the impact of the pandemic there are concerns that this work will fail to progress.
Given the challenges that face autistic children and families around going back to school following the lockdown, autism awareness training is needed more than ever to ensure that transition is successful and to prevent further exclusions.
Suzanne is a mother of an autistic son and has been involved in the Not Included campaign. Her son Callum was initially excluded (a decision now overturned) but is now being well supported in his high school. Suzanne says:
“Autism awareness training for teachers would make a huge difference – at the moment there is a lot of emphasis on when things go wrong, outbursts or meltdowns for example – it’s important however that things don’t get to this stage. Autism awareness training would help teachers create a better teaching environment, avoiding sensory over stimulation and understanding the importance of keeping calm. In the past if Callum got upset – teachers got upset too and things became a vicious circle. Thankfully things are now going well for Callum and staff are much better at supporting him and involving me in in discussions. It now feels like they are working with me not against me.”
Sally Cavers Head of Inclusion at Children in Scotland, said:
“As a contributor to a working group established by the National Autism Implementation Team and Education Scotland, I feel the amount and quality of work that has gone into planning for autistic children’s return to school is exceptional. My hope is that these plans are implemented as quickly as possible and as consistently as possible across Scotland. We cannot continue to have the situation of good practice being embraced and delivered in some areas and very far off the mark in others. Any autistic child not receiving the support they need to thrive must be urgently addressed.”
Nick Ward, Director of National Autistic Society Scotland, said:
“The routine and structure that school provides is often comforting and empowering for many autistic children and its removal has led to distress and upset for many and even challenging behaviour in some cases. Now more than ever autism awareness training for teachers is needed to help ease transition back into school and we urge Government to move forward on this. Without action we risk seeing exclusion levels for autistic children rise which would be an awful legacy of this pandemic.”
Charlene Tait, Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Scottish Autism, said:
“We welcome the frank nature of this review. The many parents who are fatigued by the bruising experiences of advocating to have their child’s needs met and who have felt let down by those they are looking to for support will, I hope, feel they have been heard. As we go forward implementation and the monitoring of outcomes will be critical”.
Read Angela Morgan’s Additional Support for Learning Review here: