Country information for UK (Scotland) - Systems of support and specialist provision

Scotland has 2,005 local authority primary schools, 357 secondary schools and 114 special schools. Approximately 1% of pupils attend local authority special schools (see EASIE country data). Some mainstream schools have integrated special units for pupils who require additional support in a more specialised setting. The provision of a special unit can facilitate opportunities for pupils with additional support needs to also work within the mainstream, contributing to the child’s level of mainstreaming and mental, social and emotional well-being, including relationships with peers.

In addition, there are seven grant-aided schools in Scotland that are independent of local authorities but are supported financially by the Scottish Government. These schools provide education for pupils with more complex additional support needs. The grant-aided schools were reviewed as part of the report on national provision for children and young people with more complex additional support needs.

(See also ‘Legislation and policy’)

Development of inclusion

Scotland’s education system has been broadly equitable over a period of time. Scotland’s national debate on education has ensured a strong consensus on children and young people being able to access education in their local community with their peers.

Within the previous special educational needs framework, support was offered in line with a medical model through learning difficulties and in-child deficits. A small number (about 2%) of children with more pronounced, specific or complex needs had a Record of Needs.

The Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act (2000) adopted a child-centred approach to education. This included directing education to the ‘fullest potential’ of the individual child, and established education as the child’s right.

Section 15 of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act (2000) (section 15 came into force in 2003) states that the education of all children should be provided in mainstream schools, unless certain, specified, exceptions apply. This applies to all children starting or attending school, nursery schools and classes, including those in other local-authority-managed centres and non-local-authority pre-primary centres with whom the authority has an arrangement under Section 35 of the Act.

The mainstream duty aimed to establish the right of all children and young people to be educated alongside their peers in mainstream schools unless there are good reasons for not doing so. It was based on the premise that all children benefit from the inclusion of pupils with additional support needs with their peers when it is properly prepared, well-supported and takes place in mainstream schools with a positive ethos. In Scotland, it was felt that such inclusion helps schools to develop an ethos to the benefit of all children, and of society generally. Many parents expressed the desire that their children be included and educated alongside their friends in a school as close to home as possible. The education community in Scotland recognises that effective inclusion should not be seen solely in terms of physical location, but must take account of what provision works for each child. Parents’ and pupils’ views should be considered when it comes to the issue of school placement and there remains an element of choice in provision. About 98% of Scotland’s pupils attend mainstream schools for over 80% of the time.

In March 2019, the Scottish Government published guidance for education authorities on their duty to provide education in a mainstream setting unless certain exceptions apply. This guidance aims to:

  • support improved outcomes and the delivery of excellence and equity for all pupils;
  • meet the learning needs of all pupils;
  • support an inclusive approach which identifies and addresses barriers to learning for all pupils;
  • empower pupils, parents and carers, teachers, practitioners and communities.

The guidance also introduced the four features of inclusion which can be used to evaluate whether or not inclusive practices are in place: present, participating, achieving, supported.

Scotland’s curricular framework is also inclusive. Its values are those of justice, integrity, compassion and wisdom. The curriculum is to be designed with a set of principles that include breadth, depth, progression, relevance, challenge, enjoyment, coherence, and personalisation and choice. Every pupil is entitled to ‘opportunities to achieve to the highest levels they can through personal support and challenge’. This entitlement to personal support is offered and delivered to pupils through universal support and targeted support. About 20% of pupils require targeted support due to their additional support needs.

Quality indicators for special needs education

Each year, Scottish ministers collect information from each education authority (EA) on:

  • the number of pupils with additional support needs for whose school education the authority is responsible;
  • the principal factors giving rise to the additional support needs of those pupils;
  • the types of support provided to those pupils;
  • the cost of providing that support.

Scottish ministers must publish the information collected each year. From 2011 to 2015, it was published within an annual report.

The inspection process includes reporting the inspection findings to the school, school community and the EA. Education Scotland contributes to a national picture of Scottish education through:

  • the national performance framework reporting mechanism, Scotland Performs;
  • the Improving Scottish Education series, which provides a broad overview of Scottish education and reports on equality of provision.

Education Scotland supports development and training across all sectors, in addition to its duty to inspect schools. Evidence of positive and innovative practice is shared through its website, through practitioner networks and events and through communities of practice which are established across the country. These networks are supported by area lead officers in each EA area.

Education Scotland’s Quality and Improvement in Scottish Education 2012–2016 noted many strengths in the quality of provision and professional practice across all sectors of education. Learning experiences for children and young people had continually improved during the period of the report. Children and young people benefitted from positive relationships with staff and other learners. As a result, overall, HM Inspectors observed children and young people who were motivated, engaged and actively involved in their learning. More young people were having a wider range of their learning and achievements accredited through youth award schemes.

The report also highlighted the distance that Scottish education had travelled since the 2012 report, capitalising on the wide range of reforms to achieve the national ambition of excellence and equity for all learners and to close the poverty-related attainment gap. 

To continue on the improvement journey, the report noted that educators across Scotland needed to:

  • fully exploit the flexibility of Curriculum for Excellence to better meet the needs of all learners;
  • improve arrangements for assessment and tracking to provide personalised guidance and support throughout the learner journey;
  • maximise the contribution of partnerships with other services, parents and the wider community to enhance children’s and young people’s learning experiences;
  • further improve the use of self-evaluation and improvement approaches to ensure consistent high quality of provision;
  • grow a culture of collaboration within and across establishments and services to drive innovation, sharing of practice and collective improvement.


Last updated 24/03/2021

Share this page: