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Enquire Blog

A photo shows the view looking across a choppy sea to the Scottish island of Shetland, visible in the distance.

ASL on Shetland

In March, representatives of Enquire and the My Rights My Say service, Hannah Gray and Marie Harrison, visited Shetland to attend an event on what the incorporation of the United Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) will mean for Additional Support for Learning and share our work on children’s rights. 

Here, Hannah shares some reflections from the trip. 

When Enquire and My Rights, My Say were invited to visit Shetland to talk ASL and children’s rights, I jumped at the chance! In my 8 years at Enquire I have always been very conscious that the experiences of the families and professionals we speak to in rural and island communities can be quite different to those in central mainland Scotland. Although some of our team spend a lot of time on many of the Scottish isles socially, and I’ve been to many rural communities across Scotland, nothing beats talking directly to the children, young people, parents, carers, teachers, learning support staff and local authority staff in person, on location.  

After a somewhat bumpy landing (after which the pilot announced ‘phew – that was exciting’!)  we spent a fantastic 36 hours sharing knowledge and learning.  

Sharing knowledge and experience

We met with the local authority education teams, delivered training to frontline workers and even attended a town hall ‘speed dating event’!  The latter involved Marie and I, along with other organisations working in children’s rights, speaking to small groups about our services, support in school and children’s rights. The town hall event was attended by around 60 different members of the community, including young people, MSYPs, parents, police, teachers, and elected representatives. It gave us a chance to share what Enquire do and the advice and information we have available for professionals, families and young people, as well as more about the role of My Rights My Say in supporting young people aged 12-15 with additional support needs to get the right support at school.

A woman with long dark hair and wearing a jumper sits at an information table, which has a range of leaflets and a cuddly toy.
Hannah sits at the Enquire and My Rights, My Say information table. April 2024.

One of our highlights of the event was hearing from the young people who shared with us what learning and support in Shetland has been like for them. Some issues reflect what we hear across mainland Scotland, such as misunderstanding about the right to support and not needing a diagnosis to be entitled to support at school, not feeling heard in decisions about the future and an overwhelming focus on exams and university as the next step beyond school.  

Unique challenges and innovative solutions

We also heard, and witnessed, some of the more unique challenges around getting the right support in school when living in an island community. What do you do when the boat bringing your pupil support assistant to school can’t run due to the weather? How can you support young people to develop their social skills and peer group when their primary school only has a few pupils? Where do you go for extra help when many third sector services don’t have a presence?  

But with the challenges we heard about the opportunities. I realised working together, being pupil and family-centred and finding creative and flexible support are essential in an island community. You have to be innovative because some solutions are not available to families, school or councils – you can’t ‘just’ go to the local authority next door or seek support from a third sector organisation to plug a gap because these often don’t exist. Moving a child to another school is not an option because the next school or local authority is a boat or flight away. 

In our two days on Shetland, Marie and I received fantastic hospitality. We shared our knowledge, expertise and what families across Scotland tell us about their experiences with additional support for learning. In return, we received a warm welcome from a community who have some very different considerations to those we are used to. They are also a community who are demonstrating their willingness and commitment to delivering an inclusive and supportive learning experience for all their learners. 

We left windswept and with a lot to share, both from and with Shetland, and hope to return again soon – though perhaps with less turbulent landing conditions!  

Hannah Gray is a Senior Advice and Information Officer with Enquire

Photo of Hannah Gray and Marie Harrison in front of a information table. Marie has shoulder length blond hair whilst Hannah has long dark hair.
Hannah Gray and Marie Harrison in Shetland. April 2024.

 

Read more

Together – Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights were also in attendance at the event hosted by Shetland Islands Council. Their Development Manager, Sarah, reflects on their experiences here.

About us

Enquire is the Scottish national advice service for additional support for learning. Our website provides a range of information, advice and resources for parents, carers and professionals. Visit the homepage and see where to find us on social media.   

Our website, Reach, hosts information and advice written for young people. Visit Reach.  

My Rights My Say is a partnership between Enquire, Children in Scotland, Partners in Advocacy and Cairn Legal. It supports children aged 12-15 with additional support needs to be involved in decisions around their education, as outlined in the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004. Visit the My Rights My Say website and follow on social media.   

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