PARENTS of children with additional support needs (ASN) are having their expertise “ignored” by schools – amid concerns teachers are not being adequately trained to be able to offer sufficient support.
The warning comes as MSPs were told of improvements needed to support the 226,838 children in Scotland who have ASN – just under one third of all pupils.
A review by Angela Morgan into the provision of ASN in Scottish schools found that “we cannot assume and take for granted that all individual professionals are signed up to the principles of inclusion and the presumption of mainstreaming”.
Parents, unions and support organisations have pointed to a lack of resources, an inability to tackle poverty and teacher training course failing to give staff enough initial knowledge as contributing to the perceived lack of support.
A survey by the EIS teachers union found that almost 80 per cent of members believe ASN support in their school is inadequate.
Ms Morgan’s review recommended that “schools and local authorities must work in partnership with parents and carers to develop, and deliver, ways of working together that support and promote positive relationships, communication and cooperation”.
Teachers supporting children with additional needs given ‘totally inadequate’ guidance
But parents are being brushed aside when offering their knowledge of support needed for their children – while some teacher training course allow just 18 weeks for theory to be taught to prepare new staff for classrooms, MSPs have been told.
Speaking at Holyrood’s Education and Skills Committee, Eileen Prior, executive director of Connect, a charity supporting parents to be involved in education, warned that attitudes must change away from “very much a deficit model”.
She stressed that “our mindset is that we have to deal with these children – we have this hurdle to overcome”.
Ms Prior added: “If we reset our approach so that we are welcoming and identifying the gifts and the skills and the attributes of the young people and their families and welcoming that into our schools, that mind shift alone moves things forward.”
She told MSP that “parents feel their knowledge and their contribution is constantly rebuffed or actually unwelcome”.
“Patents who know that child better than anyone who have a lifelong investment in that child – their contribution and their knowledge is ignored or not welcome within a school,” she said.
“The attitude and our mindset around young people with additional support needs – to me there is a question over whether ASN is a helpful thing.
“We’ve seen additional support needs mushroom over the last years and so if more children and in that deficit place, where does that put us as an educational system?
Scottish Government’s ASL action plan ‘needs extra funding’
“It’s an attitude within the system, within schools and within local authorities that have to change.”
The view was echoed by Cheryl Burnett, co-vice chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland.
She said: “For a parent it should never be challenging – we shouldn’t be made to feel that your voice isn’t heard or it doesn’t mean anything.
“It’s demeaning and you feel soul destroyed when you leave a school and you think actually, they don’t get it – they don’t see what I see in the house.”
Ms Prior also told the committee that initial teacher education “currently provides very little insight for beginning teachers into the partnership with others in their school”, including classroom assitants and other support services such as youth work or healthcare professionals.
She warned MSPs that parents “are a resource that schools rarely use effectively”.
She added: “At the moment, initial teacher education is extremely light.
“They place all the responsibility on the shoulders of that teacher and they effectively say you are the saviour in here. Actually, as a classroom teacher, you are part of a team to support a child. That team includes parents and includes other professionals.
“Having an understand when you come out of initial teacher education of that bigger picture, the wider group of people who will support your class, is really important. “
Parents say pandemic has left children feeling ‘dirty’ and comparing school experience ‘to prison’
Andrea Bradley, assistant secretary from the EIS union told MSPs that “over the last 10 years there has been an erosion in the number of people that have ASN qualifications”, warning that “we are almost setting teachers up to fail by using them to attend to all of those issues without specialist support” amid “diminishing resources”.
Ms Bradley said that initial teacher education courses are already stretched, warning it’s “already a very packed course” and learning teachers have “a very fast year”.
But Ken Muir, chief executive of the General Teaching Council of Scotland suggested that some course only allow for 18 weeks of theory to be learned – amid pressures of practical placements.
He said: “Every initial teacher education programme that GTC Scotland accredits is very much underpinned by a requirement that teachers understand what is meant by inclusive practice.
“The initial teacher education programmes are very-much predicated on GTC Scotland’s professional standards which are values-based and social justice is an important part of that.”
Mr Muir added: “The kind of ITE programmes we are seeing now are very different to the kind of programmes we saw even five years ago.
“Initial teacher education programmes are not year-long programmes. A post-graduate programme is 36 weeks – 18 weeks of which are on placement. The initial teacher education institutions have 18 weeks in which to cover a very wide range of things to ensure that students teachers are in a position to go into their probationary year.”
He added that there must be a focus on “the importance of career-long professional learning for teachers who are newly qualified and in service”.