DISABLED children in Scotland are twice as likely to be excluded as their able-bodied peers according to new analysis.

The new findings have lead to calls for councils across Scotland to stop 'discriminating' against pupils with disabilities.

The moves follow a tribunal involving Glasgow City Council which found the council had discriminated against a primary schoolboy with Asperger Syndrome (AS) on the basis of his disability. The judgement found the council had failed to put in place "reasonable adjustments" at his primary school, which it is legally obliged to do. In Scotland, all children are meant to attend mainstream schools unless there is good reason not to do so.

The landmark case, which lawyers claim is relevant to every disabled child excluded from school, opens up the possibility of other parents taking action. But education experts also acknowledged the pressures on teachers, often dealing with large class sizes without adequate resources in place.

Mother Samantha McGibbon, whose now 10-year-old son is happily settled at a new school, took Glasgow City Council to court after struggling to get him the support he needed. She claims her son's mental health had deteriorated to crisis point while she was left "an emotional wreck". The school repeatedly excluded her son, then eight, for behaviour the court accepted – in its judgement earlier this month – arose from his AS disability. The school even went on to insist that the boy would need to be accompanied by a carer or face further exclusion.

According to Scottish Government figures, 17,910 children and young people were excluded from Scottish schools in 2016/7, 772 of them with disabilities - that means that proportionally some 2.5 percent of able bodied children receive exclusions, however, the figure for children with disabilities is almost five percent. The figures for the previous year are similar, however education experts have warned that budget cuts may mean these rise in coming years unless action is taken.

The number of pupils with additional support needs (ASN) – which include social and behavioural issues, language assistance and disabilities – has been increasing year-on-year in Scotland for the last decade, reaching almost 25 percent in 2016. Figures for the number of exclusions for ASN children are proportionately double that of those without additional needs. In primaries the figure for ASN children being excluded stands at with 2,947, in secondaries 7847, and in special needs schools 558, according to most recent stats. Children in secondary schools with additional support needs are four times more likely than those without additional needs to be excluded.

Chris Oswald, head of policy for the Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland, which funded the case, said: "Being excluded can have a massive impact on a child’s education, which in turn can have a lifelong impact on their employability and prospects. Exclusion should only be considered as a last resort. Engaging with parents and finding practical solutions – most of which come at little or no cost – is a legal requirement. Councils need to take these duties seriously – the law is very clear."

Education lawyer Iain Nisbet, of Cairn Legal, who represented Samantha McGibbon and her son at the tribunal, said her case was very far from isolated. He is currently dealing with claims against three Scottish local authorities.

"In my view, the decision of the tribunal is of great significance," he said."It is relevant to every disabled child excluded from school in Glasgow – and potentially all of Scotland, too. Exclusion has such a negative impact on pupils with additional support needs, and it is unacceptable that it used in this way. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident."

He claimed that exclusions from school and part-time timetabling were common for disabled children who he said "deserved more". "What local authorities need to do now is to put in place a plan to take positive action to reduce this 'exclusion gap' between disabled and non-disabled pupils," he added.

The Sunday Herald spoke to several other parents who claimed their disabled children had been unfairly excluded, or who had struggled to get their child's educational needs met. They included Debbie Best, whose now 17-year-old son's experience of mainstream education was the catalyst for her to join forces with fellow mother Wendy Clark to form Differabled Scotland, a small grassroots charity and support group.

Best's son, who has Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), found his special needs school distressing to the point where he was unable to attend. She battled to get him into mainstream education and nearly took the local authority to court in the process. He now has two conditional places to study at university.

She said: "We know of numerous families of young people who feel the system has completely failed them. We want to ensure parents get more information on the Equality Act so they know what they have the right to ask for and don't have to go through the stressful process of tribunal."

According to research by Edinburgh University, effects of school exclusion - particularly on disabled children - can be long-term and impact negatively on health, wellbeing and future qualifications. Researchers claim there is little evidence to suggest they are necessary or even effective. Scottish Government guidance introduced in 2017 states exclusions should only be used as a last resort.

However, teachers union the EIS said many teachers were also struggling to cope. Between 2012 and 2017 the number of teachers trained to support pupils with additional support needs such as dyslexia and autism fell 16 percent from 3,248 to 2,733.

An EIS spokeswoman said: "Cuts to additional support needs (ASN) teacher numbers have meant these teachers having very high workloads and feeling unable to meet pupils’ needs as they would wish to. These teachers are reporting a lack of equipment and resources. The inclusive educational environment we all support is being stretched to the limit."

A spokeswoman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) said: "Councils work with and support headteachers when considering the complex and difficult circumstances under which any exclusion is considered and will continue to work with headteachers, families and young people to make the right decision in these circumstances. However, councils need the resources to ensure appropriate support, infrastructure and staffing is in place.”

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said they did not comment on cases "during the period of appeal", but added: "“Since 2006, exclusions across the city have reduced by 74 percent. If children are not in school they are not learning and our schools work very hard to find alternative ways in which to meet the individual needs of our young people."


SAMANTHA McGibbon’s son, now 10-years-old, is happy in his new school where he spends the majority of his day in the Language and Communication Resource room – a specialist support unit with high staff to pupil ratios and plenty of expertise on tap. He’s doing well academically, loves horse-riding lessons on Fridays and recently won a silver medal swimming 25m in a Scotland-wide disability swimming championship.

But his experience of school previously has been far from positive. He was first diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (AS) in 2014, when he was in primary one, but struggled with the transition from nursery to school.

McGibbon explains: “He has good language but he doesn’t always understand questions or instructions. He is a very literal thinker and you have to be careful about what you say because he can become very upset and distressed. The nursery was great and they knew he needed clear, firm boundaries and that was passed on to the school.”

However things didn’t go well and it was a struggle from the start. “When he becomes distressed he tends to run,” explained McGibbon. “He did get out of school a few times. He wasn’t settling and there was repeated calls to me.” When distressed he could also feel "cornered", resulting in "meltdowns" during which he could lash out without understanding of the consequences.

"There was an incident where he had [lashed out at] a teacher,” she said. "My son, (aged five), was cowering in the corner while the headteacher, the deputy and the teacher were standing with their arms folded telling me what he had done. That has been his experience of that mainstream school.”

McGibbon, a child development officer, suggested strategies which worked when they were put in place but often these 'reasonable adjustments', which a school is required to offer to disabled children under the Equality Act, were not made. No quiet space where he could retreat when feeling overwhelmed was available according to the school, who suggested he sit in a partitioned areas of a noisy corridor instead.

In primary four the issues escalated and her son was excluded for “physical assault” after lashing out again. This was followed by two further exclusions, which left her son confused, distressed and feeling unwanted at school. “By this time his mental health was deteriorating,” said his mother. “He had tics by now and because of the stress they became very severe. It became apparent that there were more pressures being put on him than he could cope with. He was withdrawn, which is not like my son, and very emotional.” He started climbing up the windows outside the school building at one point threatening to jump off.

Finally McGibbon was told that unless she or another family member could sit with her son in school every day he would be excluded again. The headteacher told her an emergency meeting had been called with the head of inclusion at Glasgow City Council, which McGibbon only discovered was untrue when she emailed him directly.

With the help of a peer group of parents who have gone on to form charity Differabled Scotland, she contacted Iain Nesbit, Scotland’s leading education lawyer for families with special needs, and took her case against Glasgow City Council to tribunal. The court found in her favour.

Meanwhile her son had moved school and was thriving not only in the community – where he has excelled in his youth club, and at swimming and football – but in the classroom. At his new school staff are specially trained to de-escalate difficult situations and there is a “calm room” where he can retreat when struggling. Each day he spends an hour in the mainstream class and it is hoped this will increase when he is ready.

“We’ve been through so much," McGibbon said. "I’ve been left an emotional wreck if I’m honest. For a while I had lost trust in the education system but with support from my son's new school I’m now starting to regain it. My son is just amazing. He’s achieving so much more than anything I would have thought possible.”


1. Provide additional resources and special needs teachers in mainstream schools as well as special units.

2. Create quiet spaces in schools, or nurture groups that allow children who are struggling time-out in a quiet, supported space.

3. Improve teacher training, not only in dealing with additional needs but in equality legislation.

4. Ensure parents are well supported in making transition from nursery to school and know what they can ask for.

5. Develop enhanced exclusion policies (that look at appropriate alternatives) at local authority level and make sure it is carried out in practice.