Three charities that support children with additional support needs explain how they work with teachers to give these pupils the best opportunities in education
The term “additional support needs” covers a wide spectrum of conditions and severity. While many are easy to identify, and formal processes and support mechanisms can be deployed, there are grey areas where vulnerable children could be overlooked.
Particularly around mental health, provision in schools and support for those on the front line can be piecemeal, leading to often overstretched teachers being obliged to provide counselling services.
We spoke to three charities who work in this area, asking them what they do, why they think there is a need for their services and how they would like things to evolve.
Jonathan Wood is the national manager for Place2Be in Scotland, which offers a counselling and therapeutic service in primary and secondary schools. He said: “We provide a wholeschool service, reaching out to teaching staff and parents as well as the children themselves.”
Jonathan acknowledges that progress has been made to tackle issues around mental health, but thinks – particularly in deprived areas – work needs to be done. He feels the impact is systemic and lifelong.
“Children’s mental health is beginning to be recognised as a vital element to get right, if our children are to thrive in life. Poor mental health affects children from all walks of life, but there are particularly high-risk factors in our poorest communities – often places with higher crime, more substance abuse and violence. Place2Be is typically in schools in these communities.
“Our work is dealing with distressed and traumatised children and the systems around them – helping teachers to understand what lies behind the behaviours; helping parents to better support and nurture their children; and helping children build up their resilience and ability to manage their emotions and deal with life’s problems. Without such an intervention, many of these children are unable to learn or benefit from school.”
Another charity working in a similar space is The Salvesen Mindroom Centre. It combines research, assessment, education and outreach to support children and families living with learning difficulties associated with a range of conditions, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autistic spectrum disorders (including Asperger syndrome), developmental co-ordination disorder, dyslexia and Tourette syndrome.
Mig Coupe from the charity highlighted the scale and impact of the issues her organisation was tasked with tackling. “In Scottish schools, 24.9 per cent of children have an identified additional support need (ASN), including learning difficulties. Children with an ASN are four times more likely to be excluded from school than children without an ASN. The number of pupils with ASN related to a mental health problem more than doubled between 2011 and 2015.
“Our Direct Help and Support service provides practical solutions for families, and is unique in Scotland in several respects. We work with families whether their child has a diagnosis or not; the service has no geographical restrictions; our support matches the need of the family – support levels range from light (information and advice) to intensive (detailed advice and strategies, and attending key meetings); our support helps parents engage with professionals, particularly in education, social work and health; professionals also approach us for assistance, and appreciate our child-focused, nonconfrontational approach.”
Sitting left-field is the Royal Caledonian Education Trust (RCET), which works directly with young people from Armed Forces families and provides education support, including resources and training, to teachers and other professionals to help them recognise and deal with the anxieties, challenges and learning obstacles that some experience while at school.
Karen Stock is the grants officer at RCET. She said: “We want every child from an Armed Forces family to reach their full potential.
“This isn’t always achievable if they are moving between different education systems and their learning is interrupted, or if they are anxious about a parent who is away from home on active service.
“Over the last five years, RCET’s Education Programme has delivered vital resources and support to in excess of 15,000 pupils, and more than 100 schools in Scotland. We also deliver professional learning training to education practitioners addressing topics such as dealing with separation, developing an emotionally literate school and moving schools. In addition, we support youngsters who are living with veteran parents who are struggling financially, living with ill health or disability.”
So while no-one could argue that these charities, and many others like them, offer valuable services which support children, parents, teachers, schools and communities – all three question the ‘postcode lottery’ nature of the provision. Access to them is often based on an individual teacher’s knowledge of their existence, rather than a formal routemap that guides schools.
Mig said: “If I could change one thing, it would be to give those going through initial teacher education a much greater understanding of these issues, how to identify them at an earlier stage and how and where to seek support for those in need.”
Karen added: “What we’d like to see is the work that we do firmly embedded within the Scottish education system.”
Jonathan recognises the significant additional burden such issues can present, and calls for in-school services to be provided. He said: “Our aim is not that teachers become therapists or counsellors, but that these services should be running alongside day-today teaching to give teachers that additional support.”
The intervention of these charities can have a deep and long-lasting positive impact. Jonathan said: “Results from our one-to-one work show an improvement from the teachers, parents and child’s point of view, in terms of behaviour, ability to concentrate, and general wellbeing and happiness.”
One parent said after receiving support from The Salvesen Mindroom Centre: “I now feel that I have a constructive way forward”, while a principal teacher said: “In the meetings I have attended, The Salvesen Mindroom Centre has a quiet presence. Mindful of resources but independent, The Salvesen Mindroom Centre helps maintain a clear vision for all concerned.”
RCET, meanwhile, has awarded more than £1 million in lifeline funding to families to help to pay for essential school clothing or fund after-school clubs and activities.
So, while there are many laudable examples of positive influence, the question remains – how can the Scottish education system formalise such provision to ensure no teacher, child or family is left without the additional support they need?
THE SALVESEN MINDROOM CENTRE
0131 475 2331
The Salvesen Mindroom Centre’s guide to understanding learning difficulties, It Takes All Kinds of Minds, is available to download from our website:
Download the booklet
GTC Scotland is also making 4,000 copies of this resource available to universities to support student teachers.