Legislative and Policy Framework

Our legislative framework is based on meeting the needs of all children and young people for them to access education, support and to improve 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 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. 

3-18 years education is provided at preschool, 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.  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 people to their fullest potential’ (Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000).

Some of the main dues of education authorities include: 

  • Making adequate and efficient provision for the additional support required for each child or young person with additional support needs for whose school education they are responsible, subject to certain exceptions 
  • Making arrangements to identify additional support needs 
  • Keeping under consideration the additional support needs identified and the adequacy of support provided to meet the needs of each child or young person 
  • Provide those children or young people, who need one, with a coordinated support plan and keep this plan under regular review.

Scottish education and legislative context

The image below provides an overview of the national legislation and policy guidance which underpins the Scottish education 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 overviews of some of the key legislation and policy documents.   

Select here  for a summary of relevant policy and legislation 

What is disability?

It is helpful to understand what the term ‘disability’ means and to acknowledge the requirement for sensitivity and respect of individual preferences, as well as the range of associated feelings which individual children, young people 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.  The Scottish educational context emphasises the importance of using inclusive language, working within the Getting it right framework with a focus on ‘Additional Support Needs’.

An autistic child or young person may meet the legal definition of disability, in which case they will be entitled to have ‘reasonable adjustments’ made: a legal right that flows from the Equality Act (2010).

A person has a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act (2010) if they have a physical or mental impairment and the impairment has a substantial and long-term (usually longer than a year) adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.  

Under the Act, many autistic children or young people may meet the legal definition of disability.  If this is the case, they will be entitled to have ‘reasonable adjustments’ made: a legal right that flows from the Equality Act 2010. 

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.   In Scottish education, it can be recorded if a learner or their parent/carer declares a learner’s disability, without formal assessment.

This link takes you to the full details of the Equality Act: 

 Equality Act 2010 (legislation.gov.uk)  

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 ‘medical’ models of disability; other models have evolved and developed from these two, which the Toolbox will focus on.

Medical and Social Models of Disability (click here for details)

The medical model

The medical model of disability suggests people are disabled by their impairments or differences and promotes the perception that there is something ‘wrong’ with the person rather than focusing on what that 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

A social model of disability, as demonstrated in the animation below, presents an alternative way of viewing and understanding disability, suggesting 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. 

The social model challenges us to consider how approaches to support should be implemented.  Inclusion Scotland is a national disabled people’s organisation,’ led by disabled people’.  This film explores how changes to how support is provided can remove barriers to meaningful participation for people with a disability. 

The following animation illustrates the social model of disability.

Neurodiversity (Singer, J.) has its roots in the social model of disability.  You can read more about this in the ‘Understanding Autism’ Section.  Neurodiversity emphasises the benefits of a strengths-based approach, which considers ‘difference not deficit’. 

The Different Minds website seeks to challenge assumptions made about autism and the autistic experience: Different Minds | Autism Scotland 

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.  The Scottish legislative framework places duties to ensure reasonable adjustments are made so that disabled people are not excluded.  For example, ensuring buildings, the curriculum and communications are accessible to everyone. 

Often, the social and medical models overlap.  Whilst support needs to be timely, needs-led and not dependent upon diagnosis, understanding of support needs can be enhanced by diagnosis or formal identification of need. 

Through a learner’s education journey, a diagnosis is not required to access resources and support to meet needs. Ongoing assessment of wellbeing, relevant supports and information should continue to be offered to a child / young person and their family according to their needs (not diagnosis). It is hoped that in future post school support will not be dependent on a diagnosis, as the current reality is that some post-school/adult services still request a diagnosis in order to access some supports.

Although diagnosis is not required, it has many other benefits. Autism is lifelong and children and young people and their families often seek timely diagnostic assessment because they find it validating, it supports positive self-identity and self-understanding, access to peers with shared experiences, access and signposting to information about being autistic and relevant supports. Understanding diagnosis is a powerful tool for self-advocacy and in planning for transitions in and beyond school. It also helps to have staff working in and with schools being aware of and confident to meet the needs of autistic learners.  

Further information and resources

Different Minds | Autism Scotland