As families hear whether their child has been granted a place at the school of their choice, ensuring the right support must remain a top priority, writes Jennifer Drummond
Over the last few months, families will have been hearing if their application for a place at the school of their choice (‘placing request’) has been successful. We know it can be a stressful and anxiety-inducing time. Once forms are submitted it indicates the beginning of a journey, not the end and, unfortunately, for some of the families we hear from, the journey so far has been anything but smooth.
Historically, these coming months are especially busy for our helpline team as they guide parents and carers through the difficult process of planning the next steps if their first-choice education setting has been declined – a particular worry for parents who are concerned about their child attending a mainstream learning environment.
What do parents tell us?
We hear first-hand the frustration that parents and carers have when their child has not been granted a place somewhere that they feel best meets their needs.
Between January and March, questions and concerns about a child’s school placement came up in a third (34%) of all conversations on the Enquire helpline. This includes anxieties about school options and concerns of whether an offered school will be suitable for their child. We also spoke to families with concerns around making a placing request, as well as subsequent denied placements.
Some raised concerns about the placing request process, highlighting that it can be difficult to navigate and there isn’t always enough time or support available to those requesting specialist provision for their children. We will continue to look at how our own advice and information service can better support families during this time.
Presumption of mainstreaming
Since the introduction of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools Act 2000, there is a presumption of mainstream education – meaning most children and young people with additional support needs are supported to learn in their local school. Specialist provision will only be considered when:
- a mainstream school would not suit the pupil’s ability or aptitude
- providing education in a mainstream setting would negatively affect the learning of other pupils in the school, or
- the cost of placing the pupil in mainstream education would be unreasonably high.
Many parents we speak to feel frustrated, confused and anxious if their child has not been awarded a place at the school or support base of their choice in favour of the local, mainstream option. It can be particularly hard when the parents’ and local authorities’ views differ on what would be the right setting for the child to learn and flourish.
It is, therefore, important to note that wherever a child attends school, if they have a need for support, the local authority have a duty to ensure that it is provided. There are a number of steps that parents and carers can take to try and resolve any concerns they have about placements and support provision.
The right to additional support
Under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act (2004), or the ASL Act, local authorities must give each child with additional support needs the help they need to fully benefit from their education. This is true if your child attends mainstream or specialist provision. However, we do know that isn’t always the experience of those who contact us. Particularly in these instances, we encourage families and professionals to work together to better understand the needs and preferences of any young person and identify the support required to be put in place.
It is important to remember that support planning should be kept under regular review to ensure it continues to meet the needs of the child or young person. We have a number of resources available to support professionals in identifying and understanding support needs and would encourage parents and carers to start – and continue – a dialogue with the school and local authority at every stage.
We also know from our discussions with the Inclusion Ambassadors that support planning is crucial to feeling supported academically, but also as an included and valued member of the school community.
So mainstream provision, with the right support and investment from the school and local authority, can work. However, we know that some families’ experiences don’t always reflect the inclusive intentions of policy and legislation.
The right to appeal
If a placing request has been denied but a parent or carer wants to pursue a place at the school of their choice, they have a right to appeal the local authorities’ decision.
If a placing request for a special school has been declined, an appeal can be lodged with the Additional Support Needs Tribunal within two months of receiving the refusal letter. Note, if the refusal is for a preferred mainstream provision, there is a much shorter 28-day window to appeal directly to the local authority’s education appeal committee.
The Let’s Talk ASN service, funded by the Scottish Government, supports parents and carers in disputes with the local authority who have a right to appeal to the Tribunal and can be a good first stop if seeking support.
Supporting children and young people through their educational journey can be daunting and exhausting, especially when the road is one that does not seem straight forward, or curves unexpectedly.
It is important that everyone is aware of the options, the entitlement and the steps that can be taken to ensure a child’s right to support is realised in an effective and appropriate way. Listening to what we know from young people who have been through school also provides a valuable insight into what makes the most impact on having a positive educational or school experience.
It is important to continue discussion, encouraging an open and supportive dialogue. At Enquire we will continue to help parents, carers and professionals understand children’s rights and work together to make sure all children have the support they need.
Jennifer Drummond is Enquire’s Senior Communications and Engagement Officer
For more information or advice on placing requests and ensuring the correct support is available to your child, or a child you care for, visit our website and search our site for resources related to school placement. Alternatively, contact us directly via our helpline, webchat or email.
More reading and resources
Fact sheet for parents and carers: School Placements
Advice for parents and carers: Working with school and solving problems
Advice for professionals: Inclusion and school placement
Advice for professionals: Planning and delivering additional support for learning