Country information for UK (Scotland) - Legislation and policy
The United Kingdom’s political system has a number of regional differences, with separate education legislation for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. This national page is for Scotland. The devolved government for Scotland has a range of responsibilities which include health, education, justice and the environment. Some powers are reserved to the UK government, including immigration, the constitution, foreign policy and defence.
The Scottish Government includes a Cabinet Secretary (Cabinet Minister) for Education and Skills and, in the civil service, a Learning Directorate and an Advanced Learning and Science Directorate.
The Scottish Government is responsible for developing national policy and, where necessary, developing appropriate legislation to support delivery of the policy. In terms of additional support for learning, this is the role of the Support and Wellbeing Unit in the Scottish Government Learning Directorate.
The Education (Scotland) Act 1980 states that school education ‘means progressive education appropriate to the requirements of pupils, regard being had to the age, ability and aptitude of such pupils’. The Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act (2000) states that education should be directed to ‘the development of the personality, talents and mental and physical abilities of the child or young person to their fullest potential’. Section 15 of the Act includes a ‘presumption of mainstream education’ and the right of parents to have their children educated in mainstream settings. Education authorities (EAs) should provide education to school-aged children within mainstream settings, unless certain exceptions apply.
The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, as amended by the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2009, imposed certain duties on Scotland’s EAs – the 32 local council areas responsible for the provision of statutory education in Scotland.
The 2004 Act requires that EAs:
- identify and assess children and young people with additional support needs;
- provide the additional support required for each child or young person with additional support needs for whose education they are responsible, subject to certain exceptions;
- review the additional support needs identified and the adequacy of support provided to meet the needs of each child or young person;
- prepare a co-ordinated support plan for those children or young people who meet certain criteria and keep this plan under regular review.
EAs have to publish information about specified matters relating to additional support needs, including their policies in relation to provision for such needs.
The Education (Disability Strategies and Pupils’ Educational Records) Act 2002 requires EAs to have an accessibility strategy. The strategy covers a three-year period and sets out how the authority will improve:
- access to the curriculum for pupils with disabilities;
- physical access for pupils with disabilities;
- information normally provided in writing for pupils with disabilities.
EAs have to provide 600 hours of free, part-time, pre-primary education per year to every three- and four-year-old child. If a pre-primary child has additional support needs, the EA must provide reasonable support to meet the child’s needs. This applies if the child attends a local authority or partnership nursery, but not a private nursery.
The Equality Act 2010 places a duty on schools and EAs not to discriminate against pupils with protected characteristics including disabilities, sexual orientation and ethnicity. This includes admission to school, the way education is provided, access to a benefit, facility or service, and exclusion. They must not treat pupils with disabilities less favourably and must take reasonable steps to avoid putting these pupils at a substantial disadvantage. The duty related to aids and services means that, since September 2012, schools (including independent schools) have to make reasonable adjustments.
The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 made provision for Scottish ministers to promote public awareness and understanding of children’s rights. It includes legislation on the role of a named person to co-ordinate a pupil’s support services and conditions about provision of their plan. The legislation enacts elements of the Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) practice model. The GIRFEC approach helps practitioners to focus on what makes a positive difference for children and young people – and how they can act to deliver these improvements. GIRFEC is being threaded through all existing policy, practice, strategy and legislation affecting children, young people and their families. The GIRFEC policy and practice guidance is currently being refreshed, seeking to further align and clarify the relationship between GIRFEC and other supporting legislation and policy.
The Education (Scotland) Act 2016 received Royal Assent in March 2016. The Act is a multi-purpose piece of legislation with a mix of measures covering education in Scotland. The Act introduced measures to improve Scottish education, including:
- improving the attainment of pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds;
- widening access to Gaelic-medium education;
- extending the rights of pupils with additional support needs.
The Act amends the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act (2000), the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 and the Welfare Reform Act 2007. The Act introduced the National Improvement Framework.
In relation to pupils with additional support needs, the Act contains provisions that change the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004. These changes enable pupils themselves to use certain rights available under the Act, if they are 12 years of age or over and have the capacity to do so. This goes beyond the suggested extension, by the 2008 Concluding Observations from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, of rights for children with special educational needs to the Tribunals process. These rights were enacted in January 2018. (Source: Legislation Updates 2017, pp. 30–31).
To further strengthen children’s rights in Scotland, the Scottish Government has committed to incorporating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scottish law. A Bill to incorporate it has been introduced in Parliament. The Bill aims to ensure that there is a proactive culture of everyday accountability for children’s rights across public services in Scotland. This will mean that children, young people and their families will experience public bodies consistently acting to uphold the rights of all children in Scotland. The intention is that the Bill will result in the highest possible protection for children’s rights.
Last updated 24/03/2021