An alliance of leading service providers has called on the Scottish Government to urgently review how local authorities are supporting children and young people with complex and high level needs.
The call from the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), which campaigns to improve services for vulnerable children and young people, comes as the latest statistics highlight a decline in the number of children with additional support needs (ASN), such as autism, dyslexia and ADHD, receiving a 'co-ordinated support plan' (CSP).
A CSP is a legal document, the only education plans that are legal documents, requiring services such as education, health and social work to work together to give a child or young person the support they need. It provides some guarantees of entitlement to additional resources and legal redress, placing statutory duties on local authorities to review and ensure the provisions contained within it are being met.
While those with ASN come disproportionately from the most deprived neighbourhoods, they have a lower proportion receiving a CSP when compared with those from the least deprived neighbourhoods. This raises concerns that those from deprived communities who are entitled to a CSP are not receiving this legal support.
Despite an increasing number of those identified with ASN, rising from 118,034 in 2012 to 199,065 in 2018 (28.7 per cent of the pupil population), an increase in numbers of 68.7 per cent, the number of those with a 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.
This is in contrast with England where the number of those receiving the equivalent of a CSP, a statutory support plan, amounts to 19.9 per cent of those with special educational needs (SEN) (amounting to 253,680 pupils).
This is an important difference between the countries. While almost a fifth of SEN pupils in England have a statutory support plan, only one per cent of ASN pupils in Scotland have equivalent legislative protection
When it comes to the total pupil population, in Scotland between 2012 and 2018 there has been a decline from 0.51 per cent to 0.29 per cent of the total pupil population of those with CSPs.
This is in contrast with England where the number of those receiving a statutory support plan is 2.9 per cent of the total pupil population and on the increase.
The SCSC has called on the Scottish Government to undertake a review of how CSPs are being implemented by local authorities, raising concerns that the drop in the number of CSPs is due to the fact that authorities are more reluctant to provide a CSP than previously. This seems to be due to the fact that local authorities are now not providing them unless the parents request them, reinforced by the fact that cuts in health, education and social work services mean that authorities are reluctant to provide such support.
There has been a fall in average spend per pupil by local authorities on additional support for learning education from £4,276 in 2012/13 to £3,548 in 2016/17, amounting to £728 per pupil and representing a 21.9 per cent cut in real terms.
The SCSC has raised concerns that this may mean that these vulnerable children and young people who are entitled to a CSP are not receiving one from the local authority. Parents are therefore having to fight to acquire one, that is if they are aware of how to access this and that they even realise this is something they are entitled to.
This lack of awareness, especially from those in more deprived communities, is reinforced by the fact that CSPs are more than twice as likely to be opened for pupils with ASN living in the least deprived neighbourhoods compared with pupils living in the most deprived neighbourhoods. The percentage of ASN pupils with a CSP in the most deprived areas is 0.96 per cent, which rises to 2.10 per cent in the least deprived areas.
However, ASN is more than twice as likely to be identified in pupils living in the most deprived neighbourhoods.
There is a clear concern here that if a lower number of those in more deprived communities are receiving a CSP in comparison with least deprived communities, they may not be getting the care and support they need and this is going to make closing the educational attainment gap even harder.
“It is clearly of some concern that we are experiencing a decline in the use of CSPs, which is to support those with the most complex needs," said Lynn Bell from Love Learning Scotland, a member of the SCSC. "This is despite an increase in the numbers of those requiring such support and is in contrast with south of the border where the number of those with the equivalent of a CSP is close to 20 per cent for those with special educational needs while in Scotland it is only 1 per cent for those with additional support needs."
"The disparity in those with a CSP between those in the least and most deprived areas is also worrying, as if we are to close the educational gap, it is key that we target the resourcing to achieve those on those in the most deprived communities."
"We are also concerned about the disparities that exist between local authorities on such support, which clearly raises concerns about how such a policy is being implemented and a lack of standardisation of who is identified as having ASN and who get a CSP."
"It is vital that the Scottish Government urgently undertake a review of how CSPs are being implemented by local authorities."
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "We want all children and young people to receive the support they need to reach their full potential. The Additional Support for Learning Act places duties on education authorities to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of their pupils."
"The legislation on the use of co-ordinated support planning is clear. To support understanding of the legislation, including the use of non-statutory planning mechanisms, and the extension of rights to children and young people, the statutory guidance on additional support for learning was updated and published in January 2018."