Teens with additional needs 'forgotten' in Scottish school return

Teenagers with additional needs who attend mainstream high schools have been “forgotten” and are struggling with the part-time return to school, parents have claimed.

Primary age children with additional needs – as well as some high school students who attend institutions with specialist units – have been allowed to go to school throughout lockdown in a bid to create stability.

However, those who attend a normal high school, but still suffer acutely from the disruption caused by an interrupted timetable due to additional needs, such as learning difficulties or autism, have been left without any continuity.

Many high school students are only attending school for half a day a week for the next three weeks due to the “blended learning” and part-time return to school under gradual lockdown easing measures.

High school pupils have to wear masks in the classroom and maintain social distancing as they return to school part time.

A parent of one boy who has additional support needs, but attends a mainstream high school in Edinburgh, said the disruption had led to a deterioration in her son’s behaviour, including temper tantrums – one of which led to a broken laptop. She has written to Deputy First Minister John Swinney to raise her concerns.

The parent said: “I wrote to John Swinney myself as my youngest has learning difficulties yet attends mainstream school and pointed out how changes in the routine and blended learning is so tricky for kids like him.

"I have heard absolutely nothing. My son is in S1 and will get one morning in school a week over the next three weeks.

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"Home schooling is very difficult for us. My son refused to attend any group online classes, yet would do one-on-one sessions.

"He has had check-in lessons with the support staff and we have been lucky in that the support for learning teacher has been really engaged with him, but obviously she is not available all the time.

"I need to take him through every lesson done at home as his reading is not sufficient to engage and it can take me an hour to get him settled to starting any work. He was already behind when he started S1. How on earth does he ever catch up?”

Nick Ward, director of the National Autistic Society Scotland, said: “Many autistic children will have been out of school for many months. Some have coped very well. However, others have struggled with the huge change to routine and, in many cases, increased isolation.

"Returning to school will present additional challenges for many autistic children with new timetables, teaching staff, classroom layouts and school routines.

"That's why we've been calling for schools to put in place individualised transition plans with input from parents to ensure a supportive routine that takes into consideration the child's needs and any stresses they may face. To not do so risks heightened stress and anxiety for the child and seeing them fall behind in their learning.”

Jo Bisset, organiser for campaign group UsForThem Scotland, said: “The closure of schools and associated disruption has been tough on all children, but those with additional support needs have been really badly affected.

"[Politicians’] decision to shut schools for months and only reopen at a snail’s pace is causing major issues for vulnerable children.

“Instead, pupils have been left in the lurch and, for those with additional support needs, the consequences of that could be truly severe.”

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