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37% of Scottish students have special needs; schools need to be sensory-friendly

March 14, 2024,  tes Magazine: Badly run and designed schools create additional needs, hear MSPs
Over a third of Scottish pupils have an ASN, but that figure would be lower if school buildings and cultures were developed with all pupils in mind, says expert

Mainstream Scottish schools are not doing enough for “a big chunk of children” with additional support needs (ASN) that they should be capable of helping - with two major factors being culture and school buildings, MSPs have heard.

Megan Farr, a policy officer for Scotland’s children’s commissioner, told the parliamentary inquiry into additional support for learning that “a large proportion” of the 37 per cent of Scottish pupils identified as having ASN would not need extra help if more schools were designed and run with them in mind.

Many Scottish secondary schools are “very hard, noisy, loud spaces with very bright lighting” and could be “hostile” and “very crowded”, with “lots of children moving around”, she said.

Similarity to prisons

Such schools were not “dissimilar to prisons” in their design, “apart from the lack of bars on the doors”, Ms Farr added.

She said that children with autism spectrum disorders, in particular, could find that “extremely overwhelming” but that schools were still being built in this way. . . .

Ms Farr added that “school cultures” were also a factor and “the way the school is run” could lead to some children with autism “absolutely joining in with the rest of the class”, while in another school a child with similar needs would be “just not coping”.

She concluded: “Thirty-seven per cent of children have an additional support need - and I’m going to separate out the concept of disability from additional support needs.

“They may still have a disability but, actually, if schools met their needs better they no longer have additional support needs because they are getting support automatically.”

Ms Farr was giving evidence yesterday to the Scottish Parliament’s Education, Children and Young People Committee as it continues its inquiry into additional support for learning and the presumption that children with ASN should attend their local school. . . .


‘Massive challenge’ for autistic pupils

The committee heard that secondary school could be a particularly tough environment for children with additional needs.

Marie Harrison, a senior policy officer for My Rights, My Say, which helps children in Scotland with ASN to exercise their rights to involvement in decisions about their support in school, said primary schools could wrap themselves around the child and create “safe, small workspaces for children and young people” - but it was “a massive challenge for autistic young people to make that transition from primary”. . . .



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