Ministers agree to review of mainstreaming in schools policy

The Scottish Government has agreed to review its policy presumption to place pupils with additional support needs (ASN) in mainstream schools.

The review will help ensure more effective uptakes of places in special schools and units and use of support staff.

Since 2002, it has been a legal requirement in Scotland for pupils to be taught in a mainstream setting unless certain exemptions apply.

These are: it would not be suited to the ability or aptitude of the child; it would prevent “efficient education” for their classmates; or it would require “unreasonable public expenditure”.

Education Secretary John Swinney told Parliament the review, working with local government, would be founded on a continuing commitment to a presumption to mainstream.

John Swinney
John Swinney

MSPs unanimously agreed to hold a review, an idea put forward by the Conservatives during a Holyrood debate and backed by the Government.

Labour education spokesman Iain Gray, whose party backed the Government but not the Tories, said the mainstreaming presumption is the right policy but it fails without adequate resources.

He said he had experience of visually impaired children being “parked at the back of the class and ignored” due to a lack of support.

He added: “Without resources and specialist expertise… it is not really a policy at all.

“It is rather a con, a fraud on those children and their parents.”

He said there are currently not adequate resources, with ASN pupils increasing by 68% since 2012 but trained ASN teachers falling by 500.

The latest Scottish Government statistics show more than a quarter (28.7%) of pupils – 199,065 – had a recorded additional support need in 2018.

Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said her party backs inclusive education but a review of the mainstreaming presumption is needed.

“There is no denying the fact there is a growing number of young people for whom mainstreaming school is not appropriate, because it isn’t delivering for their best educational and social needs,” she said.

“We have seen a significant rise in the demand for special education but the demand is not being fully met.”

Mr Swinney said: “We’re clear that all children should learn in the environment that best suits their needs, whether that’s a mainstream school or a special school setting.”

He said this judgment should be taken based on the needs and circumstances of the child.

He added: “Equity for all can only be achieved through an inclusive education system.

“Scotland’s inclusive approach celebrates diversity, and allows children and young people to develop an understanding and recognition of differences.

“This contributes to the development of an increasingly compassionate and equal society.

“I’m very pleased to consider the question of a review of the implementation of additional support for learning, including where children learn.”

Revised Scottish Government guidance of mainstreaming is due to be published shortly.