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EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.6 Social inclusion through education and training

Last update: 25 January 2021
On this page
  1. Educational support
  2. Social cohesion and equal opportunities


Educational support

The Equality Act 2010 provides a single legal framework that seeks to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all. It applies, among other public bodies, to schools, further education and higher education institutions. See the section on ‘Social cohesion and equal opportunities’ for further details.

The Children and Families Act 2014 sets out the support which local authorities are required to provide to children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND). Under the Act, a child or young person has special educational needs if he or she has a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her. A child of compulsory school age (5 to 16) or a young person aged 16 to 25 has a learning difficulty or disability if he or she:

  • has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age or 
  • has a disability which prevents or hinders him or her from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 institutions. 

The Act secures the general presumption in law of mainstream education in relation to decisions about where children and young people with SEN should be educated, although separate provision in special schools may be made in particular cases for those with complex needs.

Scotland aims to have an education system which is inclusive and equal. Most publicly funded schools do not select students on academic criteria and are mixed sex.

Additional support for learning

The legislative framework for the provision of educational support for those who face obstacles of various kinds to participation in education or training is contained in the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act (2004), as amended by the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act (2009).

The key duties on education authorities are to identify, make provision for, and review provision for the additional support needs of children and young people for whose education they are responsible.

 Additional support needs may arise from the learning environment or family circumstances, which may include a home language other than English, disability or health needs and social and emotional factors. Looked after children and young people (those in the care of their local authority) or care leavers may face barriers, and groups such as immigrants and asylum seekers and ethnic minorities may have particular needs.

Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) is the Scottish Government’s rights-based approach to improving outcomes which underpins all policy, practice, strategy and legislation affecting children, young people and their families.As part of the GIRFEC approach, the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 introduced the Child’s Plan. This is a single planning framework for children from birth to 18, or beyond if still in school, who require extra support to meet their needs and improve their well-being. While this addresses the wider well-being needs of children, not just learning support needs, the plan incorporates any learning specific support plans there may be. In the 2020-2021 Programme for Government, it’s recognised that the global pandemic has worsened inequalities in Scottish society. The government announced its commitment to a £60 million Youth Guarantee, so every young person aged between 16 and 24 will be guaranteed an opportunity at university or college, an apprenticeship programme, employment including work experience, or participating in a formal volunteering programme. This will be backed by additional funding for apprenticeships and the new Job Start Grant. 

Under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act (2009), where support needs are significant, requiring the involvement of both education and another partner agency and will last more than one year, children and young people may have a statutory co-ordinated support plan (CSP) to bring together all of the support to be provided to meet their learning needs.

A CSP is an education plan prepared by local authorities. It outlines:

  • the additional support needs
  • the objectives that have been set for the child/young person to achieve
  • the support required to achieve the objectives.

The Child’s Plan (Scotland) Order 2016 requires any CSP to be incorporated in the Child’s Plan.

Individualised Education Programmes (IEPs) are not statutory documents, but are developed at local level to provide a planning framework to underpin the teaching, learning and support processes by which a child’s additional support needs can be addressed. The nature and scale of IEPs will vary with the needs of the individual.

The underlying principle of the Scottish approach to additional support needs is that provision should mainly be in mainstream settings. The general aim is to identify the nature and extent of the individual pupil’s additional support needs and to provide appropriate means of meeting them in a context of equality of opportunity for all pupils. That being so, no one approach is laid down specifically for teaching pupils with additional support needs.

Schools may directly employ a learning or pupil support worker, or the post may be shared by more than one school. Such support workers may be specialists or classroom teachers who have undergone specific training. A range of professionals, such as educational psychologists, may be involved in support work and these are generally employed centrally by the local authority.


Schools and education authorities have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils. Since 1 September 2012, the reasonable adjustments duty for schools and education authorities have included a duty to provide auxiliary aids and services for disabled pupils, a duty which already applied in further and higher education.

Colleges must have regard to the needs of students, including support needs, and make adjustments to ensure that students with disabilities are not placed at a substantial disadvantage. They do this by offering special courses; by using Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) modules devised for the purpose; by providing support to students on mainstream courses; and by providing aids to learning for those with particular needs.Higher education institutions provide a range of appropriate support to those who need it, including English language support for speakers of other languages. Courses and learning/teaching approaches are adjusted where necessary. The specific types of support available vary across the institutions.

English for speakers of other languages

Welcoming Our Learners, Scotland’s strategy for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), sets out its approach to this group, including young people in secondary school who are given the opportunity to be able to improve their English language skills in the context of curriculum for excellence. They can get recognition of their English language learning through Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) ESOL qualifications.

The Scottish Budget 2020-2021 outlines priorities for the Scottish Funding Council, including:

 secure continuous improvement in learner outcomes by progressing the ambitions of our Developing the Young Workforce, Learner Journey, Widening Access and Student Support programmes, all of which contribute to improving outcomes particularly for those who may need additional support, such as ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) learners, those from care-experienced backgrounds, and disabled students;

Equality in apprenticeships

The Equalities Action Plan for Modern Apprenticeships in Scotland sets out a five-year plan which includes specific improvement targets for Modern Apprenticeship participation by young people in four main groups:

  • disability
  • gender
  • minority ethnic groups
  • care leavers.

Initiatives to achieve the targets by 2021 include part-time and flexible engagement. Young disabled people are being provided with the highest available level of Modern Apprenticeship funding until they reach 30.

The Scottish government published a Gender Pay Gap Action Plan in 2019 to address the drivers of the gender pay gap in women’s labour. Part of this is facilitating an expansion to the funding entitlement to early learning and childcare (ELC) from August 2020. Expanding the capacity of modern apprenticeships is central to this ELC funding expansion, offering a two pronged approach - increased gender balance in the apprenticeships themselves as well as increasing gender balance in the wider workforce through improved childcare. STEM is another key area of focus for equality in apprenticeships outlined in the report. The report states one of its main aims is to work with SDS and Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board to realise the outcomes of the forthcoming Commission into occupational segregation by gender within Apprenticeships (p.39), but recognises this poses a challenge

However gender segregation in further and higher education and within apprenticeships is significantly ingrained in the system and in workplaces. We will continue to work with the SFC and SDS to ensure progress on their Action Plans.


Widening participation in higher education

The Scottish Government’s Programme for Government for 2020-21 continues a commitment to drive forward the recommendations of the Commission on Widening Access’s Report A Blueprint for Fairness, so that every child, no matter their background or circumstances, has an equal chance of going to university by 2030. The Scottish Government (p. 99):

We are continuing to work with colleges, universities, and others to implement the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Widening Access, ensuring that, by 2030, admissions to university reflects our population with at least 20 per cent of university entrants coming from our 20 per cent most deprived communities

One of the other recommendations of A Blueprint for Fairness was that a Commissioner for Fair Access should be appointed to provide strategic leadership and help drive progress across the education system. This appointment was made in 2016.

Advance HE (formerly the Equality Challenge Unit) works to remove barriers to further education. It provides a central resource of advice and guidance for the sector. Advance HE is a registered charity whose charitable objective is to support strategic change and continuous improvement through the development of individuals and organisations of higher education.

 In August 2016, the Scottish Funding Council published a Gender Action Plan, outlining the actions it would undertake in collaboration with colleges, universities and other partners to address gender imbalances.

The Sutton Trust is a not-for-profit organisation which focuses on reducing inequality through education. It runs a UK-wide Summer Schools Programme in which 12 institutions, and around 2500 fifth-year students from publicly funded schools, take part. Participants get a flavour of life as a first-year undergraduate through a week of taster lectures, workshops and social activities, which gives them the knowledge and insight they need to make high quality university applications. The programme covers the cost of travel, accommodation, food and activities.

Inclusion through Community Learning and Development

The Scottish Government’s 2012 strategic guidance for Community Learning and Development (CLD) states that within the overall National Performance Framework for public services, CLD’s specific focus should be:

  • improved life chances for people of all ages, including young people in particular, through learning, personal development and active citizenship
  • stronger, more resilient, supportive, influential and inclusive communities.

One of the principles that underpin practice is inclusion, equality of opportunity and anti-discrimination - recognising some people need additional support to overcome the barriers they face.Some CLD provision is specifically designed to engage and support different types of disadvantaged groups. There are courses run specifically for certain groups, for example for ethnic minorities, particularly in the form of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), for industry, for students with Additional Support Needs, for those serving sentences in prison or for groups and individuals in deprived areas. The Requirements for Community Learning and Development (Scotland) Regulations 2013 outline the specific regulatory requirements for inclusion and learning. A Guidance Note on Community Learning and Development Planning 2018-21 was published to help local authorities successfully achieve these requirements. 

See also the section ‘Youth work to foster social inclusion' in the ‘Social Inclusion' chapter.

See ‘Special Education Needs Provision within Mainstream Education‘ and  ’Support Measures for Learners in Adult Education and Training’ in the Eurydice national education system description for Scotland.


Educational support measures are funded through local authorities' normal revenue budgets for additional staffing or resources. Funding is available within general local capital budgets for adapting buildings or providing special equipment.

The Scottish Government, through local authorities, funds free school meals for pupils up to the age of 18 in families in receipt of certain welfare benefits, who are regarded as living in poverty. This is aimed at improving the attainment of such pupils. The free school meals scheme was extended throughout the summer in 2020 to help low-income families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Support measures in higher education are financed through the institutions' grants from the Scottish Funding Council. Eligible students may apply for Disabled Students Allowance. This is intended to help pay the extra costs incurred by students with a disability such as a long-term health condition or a learning difficulty such as dyspraxia or dyslexia. The amount depends on individual needs. 

Social cohesion and equal opportunities

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 created the Public Sector Equality Duty, which places public bodies, including schools, further education colleges and higher education institutions, under a general duty to carry out their functions with due regard to the need to:

  • eliminate discrimination and other conduct that is prohibited by the Act
  • advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it
  • foster good relations across all characteristics between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it.

The Department for Education’s advice for schools regarding the Equality Act include outlining ways in which the curriculum could be taught in a discriminatory way and highlighting ways to prevent this e.g The girls’ cricket team are not allowed equal access to the cricket nets, or the boys’ hockey team is given far better resources than the girls’ team. 

The protected characteristics are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

The Act applies to all schools, both publicly funded and independent fee-paying schools, higher education authorities and further education colleges.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has provided guidance on the provisions of the Act as regards further and higher education institutions.

‘Prevent’ Duty

From 1 July 2015, a wide range of public-facing bodies, including all schools, colleges and universities, became subject to the ‘Prevent’ duty. This is a duty to have due regard to preventing people being drawn into terrorism. Specific guidance for early years providers and schools and further education institutions and higher education institutions is available. Broadly speaking, these guidelines discuss the importance of safeguard training for teachers, as well as training in identifying children who may be vulnerable to radicalisation, and risk assessment.


School curriculum

There is no statutory curriculum in Scotland. Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) provides a framework for teaching and learning within which schools have freedom over what and how they teach, as long as they adhere to the principles of the framework.Concepts of inclusion, social justice, equal opportunities, discrimination, etc., may be introduced in any of the curriculum areas, but opportunities may occur more readily in health and wellbeing, religious and moral education and social studies.

In the senior phase (ages 16-18), students move on from the broad general education provided for 3- to 15-year-olds, to more specialisation in working towards taking National Qualifications (see subheading 'Certification' in the article 'Assessment in General and Vocational Upper Secondary Education' in Eurydice's education system description for Scotland for details of qualifications).A broad range of options is offered in the senior phase and students have much greater freedom of subject choice than in the earlier phase. Pathways are designed by education institutions at local level to meet the needs of their learnersAll learners are entitled to experience a senior phase where they can continue to develop the four capacities (successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors) and achieve qualifications. Other entitlements include a continuous focus on developing skills for learning, life and work, namely literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing.

The experiences and outcomes for health and wellbeing (which remains a focus in the senior phase) include learning in health and wellbeing ensures that children and young people develop the knowledge and understanding, skills, capabilities and attributes which they need for mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing now and in the future.

Each establishment, working with partners, should take a holistic approach to promoting health and wellbeing, one that takes account of the stage of growth, development and maturity of each individual, and the social and community context. Pupils can expect their learning environment to support them to: ‘acknowledge diversity and understand that it is everyone’s responsibility to challenge discrimination’.

See the section ‘Formal learning’ in the article  ‘Learning to participate through formal, non-formal and informal learning’ for related information on how citizenship is taught through the areas of learning and the Eurydice report on citizenship education (forthcoming at time of writing).

In schools, expectations are also set through the standards for registration as a teacher which stipulate the professional values and personal commitment required. The ‘Social Justice’ heading includes:

  • embracing locally and globally the educational and social values of sustainability, equality and justice and recognising the rights and responsibilities of future as well as current generations
  • committing to the principles of democracy and social justice through fair, transparent, inclusive and sustainable policies and practices in relation to: age, disability, gender and gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion and belief and sexual orientation
  • valuing as well as respecting social, cultural and ecological diversity and promoting the principles and practices of local and global citizenship for all learners.

Headteachers have particular responsibility for promoting and modelling these values within their school.

Equality in youth work

The charity roshni, with the Scottish Government’s support, has developed a series of free training courses aimed at youth workers and volunteers to develop their knowledge and skills when working with young people from minority ethnic communities.

LGBT Youth Scotland and Stonewall Scotland received equality funding from the Scottish government in the 2017-2020 round of funding. 

LGBT Youth Scotland was involved in the development of online group work and personal support for LGBTI young people who are unable to access services because they are not able to travel because they live in remote areas. They developed a group chat function to facilitate young people to connect with other LGBTI people in their school community.  This work allows young people to learn new digital skills using online tools and share their learning with each other, furthering digital equality and inclusion. 

YouthLink Scotland, the national agency for youth work, has a suite of videos freely available, including:

  • PLUS: Disability Awareness and Inclusion - focusing on disability, specifically issues of inclusion within mainstream clubs and organisations
  • Gara (formerly Glasgow Anti-Racist Alliance, now CRER - Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights) -focusing on developing effective anti-racist work within the youth work sector and exploring the barriers preventing young Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) people from participating in mainstream youth groups
  • Down's Syndrome Scotland: Changing Attitudes and Perceptions – looking at barriers to including young people with learning disabilities in society, and the benefits in involving them
  • LGBT Youth Scotland: Tackling Equality Issues through Peer Education – highlighting the work of a peer education project, with ideas and activities to support peer education programmes to tackle inequality.

Youth Scotland is the largest non-uniformed youth organisation in Scotland, delivering youth work programmes, information, resources, training and support to community-based youth work. It provides good practice advice and an activities bank regarding the issue of sectarianism.

See also the section 'Promoting the intercultural dialogue among young people' in the article 'Raising political awareness among young people' for more information on sectarianism.