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Education rights in Scotland

By law, children with disabilities, including those who are permanently deaf, have the right to be supported in school so they have the same opportunities as other children.  

Learn which laws protect your child’s rights in education. You can also find out about the changes your child’s school should make to include your child, how absences should be recorded, how exams should be made accessible, and more.

We have more information about additional support in education in Scotland.

Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) 

The government has put in place an early intervention policy, called Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC). GIRFEC is a national approach to promoting, supporting, and safeguarding the wellbeing of all children and young people, in order to uphold children's rights UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). 

It provides a consistent framework, shared language and common understanding of wellbeing. GIRFEC puts your child at the heart and helps them get the right support from the right people at the right time. 

The Equality Act 2010 

The Equality Act 2010 is an important law that provides disabled children with a number of rights and protections. Under the Act, all permanently deaf children meet the definition of disability. 

The Equality Act 2010 means that public bodies, including local authorities and schools:

  • must make reasonable adjustments 
  • must promote equality of opportunity for disabled children  
  • can’t discriminate against your child – which means that in most cases a school can’t refuse to accept your child simply because they’re deaf. They also can’t treat your child less favourably than other children by, for example, not allowing them to do certain activities that other children are allowed to do, without considering the reasonable adjustments.

We have more information about the Equality Act.

Reasonable adjustments 

Reasonable adjustments are changes which a service or organisation should make so that disabled people have the same opportunities as non-disabled people. By law, schools must make reasonable adjustments for children and young people who are permanently deaf or have long-term hearing loss lasting a year or more. 

What is considered ‘reasonable’ depends on a number of factors, including your child’s needs and the type of school they’re attending. Here are some examples of reasonable adjustments in education. 

  • Adjusting the pace and length of a learning session. 
  • Using visual cues to support teaching. 
  • Creating opportunities for one-to-one and small group work.
  • Checking a child’s level of understanding after a lesson.
  • Tutoring before or after a lesson.
  • Providing equipment and technology, such as radio aids or flashing fire alarms.
  • Providing a good listening environment in the classroom for learning.
  • Making sure staff and students at the school are deaf aware.
  • Writing down homework rather than giving it verbally.
  • Making adjustments to help deaf children access specific subjects, like learning a foreign language or music lessons.
  • Meeting a child’s communication needs. For example, if your child uses sign language, they may require qualified sign language interpreters to access the curriculum. 

The laws don’t say exactly what is or isn’t a reasonable adjustment. This is because what’s reasonable in one area might be unreasonable in another. For example, a very small school in an older building may find it harder to improve their acoustics, whereas a larger school in a modern building and with a bigger budget may find this easier.   

If your child’s school fails to make reasonable adjustments, this is discrimination.

Additional support needs (ASN) 

A child or young person is said to have additional support needs (ASN) if they need extra support to benefit from education. Most, but not all, deaf children may be viewed by their local authority (council) as having ASN. Your child may have ASN if they have, or you think they are likely to have, much more difficulty in learning than other children of the same age.  

The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 sets out how children and young people with ASN should be supported in their education. The Act applies to all children and young people in public education, from the date they begin free nursery education until they leave secondary school. 

All schools that are funded by the local authority must follow the laws set out in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. They must also follow guidance called the Supporting children's learning: code of practice (revised 2010). 

Find out more about ASN and additional support for learning (ASL) in school. 

Transport to school 

Some deaf children in Scotland will be entitled to free home-to-school transport from their local authority. They may be eligible if they: 

  • can’t walk to school for medical reasons or because they have a disability 
  • are under eight years old who live more than two miles from their designated school 
  • are eight and over who live more than three miles from their designated school. 

These distances are measured by the nearest available route, taking into account issues such as safety. Some local authorities may provide help with transport for lesser distances. A designated school usually means the child’s local school or the school where the local authority has given a place, such as a special school. 

A pupil's right to school transport is not dependent on the family's household income. 

Choosing a school outside your area 

If you choose a school managed by another local authority, you should discuss transport with the school before making a placing request, as your child won’t ordinarily be entitled to free transport. The home local authority may provide transport at its discretion. 

Additional support needs (ASN) 

If your child has ASN and you make a placing request to an independent special school or grant-aided special school outside your local authority, your child should be entitled to free transport. You can check with the local authority if you plan to request a school placement, however, your child should receive free transport in this situation. 

Children with special transport needs will normally be individually assessed so that transport is designed for their personal needs. This may include door-to-door transport, special car seats, transport in a wheelchair-accessible minibus or the provision of an escort. 

If you’re concerned about your child’s transport arrangements, you should discuss the problem with the head teacher at your child’s school in the first place. 

Communicating with drivers

If your child goes to school by taxi or with a pupil escort, we have created videos with BSL signs to help the driver or escort communicate with your child. With thanks to Frank Barnes, Hamilton Lodge and RSD Derby for their support.

Spectrum offers an online course in Safeguarding and Awareness for Home to School Transport Teams which includes a section on deaf awareness for drivers and escorts.

More information 

Each LA will have its own home-to-school transport policy giving details of local arrangements. This should be available on their website. If it isn’t, you can contact your local authority and ask for a copy of their policy. 

Enquire, the Scottish advice service for additional support for learning, has a factsheet on school transport. 

Exam access arrangements 

Schools and awarding bodies must make reasonable adjustments to help deaf students access tests, assessments and exams fairly. 

Access arrangements could involve: 

  • extra time 
  • use of technology such as radio aids or streamers 
  • a reader (someone who reads exam questions aloud) 
  • a scribe 
  • a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter. 

Enquire has more information about exam access arrangements. 

Access arrangements are not automatically permitted by exam boards. Your child’s school will need to show that they’re part of a ‘normal way of working’ for your child. If you feel your child will need access arrangements, you should discuss this with their ToD or the person who supports students with ASN at their school well in advance of any exams or assessments. 

If your child has an educational plan, access arrangements should be discussed at their annual review before the start of courses in which your child will be examined. 

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) has detailed information and official guidance on exam access arrangements and reasonable adjustments. You can also find deaf-specific information in Access Arrangements for Your Child's Examinations. 

Absence recording 

Your child may need to miss school often for medical appointments, such as audiology, or for other reasons related to their deafness. School absences are recorded as authorised or unauthorised. If you’ve let your child’s school know about their medical appointment in advance, this should be counted as an authorised absence. The Scottish government has guidance for parents on school attendance. 

Some schools have an attendance reward scheme to encourage children to attend school and discourage parents from taking their child out of school unnecessarily. Attendance reward schemes are fine as long as they make reasonable adjustments to make sure they aren’t putting disabled children at a disadvantage. For example, a reasonable adjustment could be to have a policy where children are rewarded as long as they have 100% attendance for the time they could reasonably be expected to be in school, that is, not including medical appointments or any time off due to their disability. 

Enquire have information about recording absences generally and for missing school: 

If you have any concerns about how your child’s absences are being recorded, contact our Helpline 

Education Authority inspections 

All schools must be inspected and reviewed by the Education Authority. Residential secondary schools must be inspected by the Care Inspectorate. 

Medical conditions 

Schools must take reasonable steps to ensure children and young people with medical conditions get support to support to access education and other aspects of school life. If your child has glue ear or another form of temporary hearing loss, this can be regarded as a medical condition. 

Read the government guidance Supporting children and young people with healthcare needs in schools. This guidance requires schools to make sure that: 

  • children with medical conditions are supported so that they have full access to education, including to physical education and school trips 
  • staff receive appropriate training 
  • there is someone in charge of how the school supports children with medical conditions 
  • they have a policy that sets out how they will support children with medical conditions (this should be readily available).