All children and young people deserve the same opportunity to succeed and reach their full potential, and the Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that all pupils, including young carers, receive the support that they need, when they need it.
Under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, education authorities have duties to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of all their pupils, including young carers, and all schools have plans in place to do that. In some areas, schools have been commissioned to prepare young carer statements. The Scottish Government supports that approach. Those statements are personalised plans that cover a range of information about a young person’s caring role, including their own individual needs and personal outcomes.
When I speak to young carers and those who advocate for them, a common theme is how patchy the support structure is for them across the education system. Some have excellent school experiences, whereas others have not so excellent school experiences; it depends on individual teachers and their experiences in dealing with young carers.
Given that every teacher is likely to work with young carers multiple times in their career, does the cabinet secretary agree that the education of our educators should include specific instruction on the issues that young carers may experience?
Mr Whittle makes a fair point. It is important that all our educators are equipped to deal with young people as they present themselves and the circumstances with which they are wrestling.
Mr Whittle is also correct to say that there are examples of outstanding practice in our country and examples in which practice will not be as strong as that.
During the summer, I spent some time at the Scottish young carers festival near Dunfermline, at which I spoke to a group of young people who, even in that small grouping in the same local authority area, were able to recount a position that Mr Whittle has recounted. Some young people had very specific and focused support in place; for others, that was less the case.
I agree with Mr Whittle that, as part of continuing professional development of our teaching profession so that it understands the health and wellbeing aspects of our curriculum, teachers should be equipped with that knowledge to provide the support that young carers require in our society.
I recently spoke with Renfrewshire Carers Centre, which told me about young carers who feel isolated in school and struggle with bullying and teachers who do not understand that they cannot complete their homework or arrive on time because of their caring responsibilities. To change that, it is facilitating peer support groups in school and conducting awareness-raising training for teachers. What can the Scottish Government do to help to support organisations such as Renfrewshire Carers Centre to provide those vital services?
I welcome the information that Mary Fee has shared with us, which illustrates the practical and tangible support that can be put in place for young carers.
Mary Fee recounted circumstances in which there are perhaps difficulties and challenges in the interaction of young people with the school, whether that relates to homework not being presented or young people not being able to get to school on time. Schools should focus on the experiences of individual young people. If we are to sign up to the getting it right for every child agenda, we should be engaging and understanding the needs of every single child. That is the founding ethos of our education system and the curriculum for excellence.
Obviously, those are significant policy approaches that the Government supports. I am grateful to Mary Fee for putting on the record the specific ways in which support is being offered in Renfrewshire, and I am happy to support that.