Chapter 2: A summary of additional support for learning

Scottish education law outlines a framework for children to be supported to make sure they benefit from education and reach their full potential.

The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 outlines how to meet the needs of children who require additional support to ensure they can make the most of their education. Amendments were made to this act in 2009, which became law in November 2010.

“The Act aims to ensure that all children and young people are provided with the necessary support to help them work towards achieving their fullest potential. It also promotes collaborative working among all those supporting children and young people and sets out parents’ rights within the system.”
(Supporting children’s learning code of practice 2010)

Under this law, any child who needs more or different support to what is normally provided in schools or pre-schools is said to have ‘additional support needs’.

Children may need extra help with their education for a wide variety of reasons. A child’s education could be affected by issues resulting from:

  • social or emotional difficulties
  • behavioural difficulties
  • problems at home
  • having missed a lot of school due to ill-health
  • bullying
  • being particularly gifted
  • a sensory impairment or communication problem
  • a physical disability
  • being a young carer or parent
  • moving home frequently
  • having English as an additional language.

It is not possible to list all the reasons because it will always depend on the individual child. What is important is that many circumstances may affect children’s ability to learn. So support may need to come from health, social work or certain voluntary organisations, as well as from education. Professionals with different areas of expertise should all work together to make sure any support your child gets is properly tailored to their individual needs.

Your child’s needs may last a short time, and the problem may be resolved easily. Or their needs might be very complex, and they may require additional support for a number of years.

Whatever your child’s needs, everyone involved should try to identify them as early as possible and provide the necessary support in a way that does not make your child feel singled out.

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What are additional support needs?

The law says that a child or young person may have additional support needs if they are unable to benefit from their school education without help beyond what is normally given to children or young people of the same age. Your child may need additional support at any time during their school life, from the age of three when they start pre-school education. They may also need additional support to help them prepare for pre-school or school.

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Why children may have additional support needs

It is not possible to list all the circumstances that may mean a child needs additional support because every child is different. Circumstances that disrupt one child’s learning could have little or no effect on the learning of another.

The following are some examples of situations that may give rise to additional support needs. However, these are a guide only. As a parent, you will know your child better than anyone else and understand when they may be having difficulties.

The learning environment is not appropriate for a child’s individual needs

It may be that what is being taught, or the way it is being taught, is not suitable for your child. The materials used may be inaccessible to them. Perhaps the physical environment, e.g. the way the classroom or school is laid out, is not giving your child the best chance of success.

A child who is more able may need a more challenging curriculum in order to make progress. A child whose first language is not English may also need additional support to access the curriculum.

Family circumstances are affecting a child’s ability to learn

Children’s progress at school is influenced by what is happening at home. If their home life is disrupted in any way, this may affect their ability to benefit from school education. Examples include children who are affected by family breakdown, who are homeless or move home often, who are helping to care for parents or siblings with health problems or disabilities, or who have become parents themselves. All looked after children are considered to have additional support needs, unless assessments find that support is not needed.

The child has a disability or health need

Children are likely to need additional support at school if they have motor or sensory impairments (e.g. difficulty with movement or sight), specific language impairments, autistic spectrum disorder, learning or attention difficulties or a debilitating illness. Mental health problems such as depression or eating disorders can also affect children’s ability to learn.

A child is experiencing social or emotional problems

Children may also need additional support if they have been bereaved, have missed a lot of school for whatever reason, are being bullied or are bullying, are experiencing racial discrimination or displaying behavioural difficulties. Children who misuse drugs or alcohol are also likely to need support to access education.

Remember the above is not meant to be a complete list — a child may need additional support at any time and for any length of time.

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Getting it right for every child

In Scotland a national programme called Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) aims to improve outcomes for all children and young people.

GIRFEC encourages professionals, such as teachers and social workers, to make decisions based on the best relevant information, and helps them intervene early and in the right way if needed.

GIRFEC’s approach is reflected in all Government policy documents and initiatives about children and young people. Some parts of the GIRFEC programme are included in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.

The wellbeing wheel, shown here, has been developed as part of the GIRFEC programme. This shows the main ways in which adults can support children to ensure their overall wellbeing. A child’s wellbeing and other outcomes can be assessed against the eight indicators in this wheel: safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible and included. You may hear these called SHANARRI indicators.

For all children and young people to achieve their potential and become successful learners, confident individuals, effective  contributors and responsible citizens — the aim of Curriculum for Excellence — they must each be helped to do the best they can on these eight indicators.

You can find out more about Getting it right for every child on the Scottish Government website –

You can find information about Curriculum for Excellence from your child’s school, Parentzone, Education Scotland and the Scottish Government.

The wellbeing wheel

Getting it Right wheel

Reproduced with permission from Supporting children’s learning code of practice (Scottish Government, 2010).  Click the image for a larger version, or visit the Getting it right for every child website

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