A free online resource developed to support the inclusion of autistic learners in Scottish Early Learning and Childcare settings, Primary and Secondary schools.

Legislative and Policy Framework

Our legislation ensures rights and entitlements for children and young people to education, support and wellbeing. There is a range of legislation and educational policies that places duties and expectations on schools and local authorities to ensure that they:

  • Promote a child centred approach to encourage every child to reach their ‘fullest potential’
  • Deliver an inclusive education
  • Support learners to achieve to the best of their ability 
  • Do not discriminate against those with protected characteristics
  • Provide assessments when requested.

A child centred, needs led education system

Scotland’s ‘child centred needs led’ education system has been designed to ensure that the provision of support for a child or young person is not dependent upon them receiving a formal label or identification of need such as autism, dyslexia or a physical disability. 

Education is provided at pre-school, primary and secondary levels in both mainstream and special schools. In accordance with the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, the provision of education is the responsibility of local authorities who perform the function of education authority. Education has to be flexible to fit individual needs, be tailored to 'age, ability and aptitude' (Education (Scotland) Act 1980) and aims to develop the 'personality, talents and mental and physical abilities of children and young persons to their fullest potential' (Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000).

Scottish education and equality context

The image below provides an overview of the national legislation and policy which underpins the Scottish educational context of inclusion and equality. It is not intended as an exhaustive list of all Scottish policy which refers to inclusion but gives a broad overview of some of the key legislation and policy documents.

Select here for a legislative and policy summary 

Select here for an image of the Scottish education and equality context. 

This image has the names of policies and legislation all around a central circle which illustrates the child at the centre surrounded by Curriculum for Excellence and Wellbeing indicators

What is disability?

It is helpful to understand what the term disability means and appreciate the sensitivity of the term and the range of associated feelings which learners and families may have. For example, some autistic people are very clear that they do not wish to be viewed as disabled, even if they may meet the criteria highlighted below.  

A person has a disability for the purposes of the 2010 Equality Act if he or she has a physical or mental impairment and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. 

This means that, in general:

• the person must have an impairment that is either physical or mental;

• the impairment must have adverse effects which are substantial;

• the substantial adverse effects must be long-term; and

• the long-term substantial adverse effects must be effects on normal day-to-day activities.

All of the factors above must be considered when determining whether a person is disabled.

Please note that education staff do not assess and determine if an autistic learner has a disability. This is done by health colleagues but should be in partnership with the family and educational setting.

There are a number of ‘models’ of disability which have been defined over recent years. The two which are most frequently discussed and commonly used are the ‘social’ and the ‘medical’ models of disability, other models have evolved and developed from these 2 models. The Toolbox will focus on these models.

In terms of autism, the social and medical models overlap. While no support should be diagnosis dependent and should be timeously provided, understanding of support needs can be enhanced by diagnosis. Section 2 of this module provides an opportunity to explore the Scottish ‘needs led’ system in which all children and young people are entitled to support with – or without a diagnosis.

Research evidence from diagnosed individuals and families indicate a preference for timely diagnosis. The reality is that diagnosis helps with access to the most relevant information and support now and in the future.

The medical model

The medical model of disability says people are disabled by their impairments or differences.

Under the medical model, these impairments or differences should be ‘fixed’ or changed by medical and other treatments, even when the impairment or difference does not cause pain or illness.

The medical model looks at what is ‘wrong’ with the person and not what the person needs. It creates low expectations and leads to people losing independence, choice and control in their own lives.

Although it is termed a medical model this does not mean that health professionals necessarily agree with it. 

The social model

The social model of disability says that disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. It looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people. When barriers are removed, disabled people can be independent and equal in society, with choice and control over their own lives.

Disabled people developed the social model of disability because the traditional medical model did not explain their personal experience of disability or help to develop more inclusive ways of living.

The Social model of disability and the Scottish context for education support the vision for inclusion in Scotland for all our learners - both disabled and non-disabled. Anticipatory thought is given to how disabled people can participate in activities on an equal footing with non-disabled people. Certain adjustments are made, even where this involves time or money, to ensure that disabled people are not excluded.

The following animation illustrates the social model of disability.