Throughout 2020-2021 there was continued upheaval in Scottish education due to the impact of Covid-19. Children and young people returned to school for the autumn 2020 term and then schools were closed for the second time in the winter term of 2021. Even when schools opened, some learners and teaching staff were unable to attend due to illness or the need to self-isolate. National 5 examinations were cancelled in October 2020, Highers and Advanced Highers in December, and National Qualification awards were based on evidence of attainment from teachers and lecturers in the summer term of 2021.

For CALL and the learners and practitioners that we support, the situation resulted in a continuation of the online support for learners, practitioners and parents and professional learning that we had developed in 2020. In-person visits to schools were able to commence, where essential, in August 2020 but largely ceased when schools closed in January 2021. The team made fewer personal visits to provide assessment and support, while the number of online support sessions increased. Online assessment and support does enable more frequent support and reduces travel time but most of the learners referred to CALL do require a personal visit due to the complexity of their additional support needs.

All CALL professional learning courses were delivered online and this resulted in a significant increase in the number of participants who attended compared to the in-person courses that we delivered in previous years. Similarly, most of the 31 Inset sessions were delivered online which enabled 917 participants to attend – another increase compared to the past. Online courses last 90 minutes compared to our previous half or full day in-person format, so cannot cover material in the same depth, but they do enable a larger number of practitioners to participate. The free CALL Webinar programme has continued to expand, with 5,766 people registering and an average of 455 viewing the webinar recordings. There is now a waiting list of presenters wishing to contribute to the webinars. Further details are in Career-Long Professional Learning.

Covid-19 coincided with a number of other events and initiatives during 2020-2021 which are resulting in significant changes in the Scottish educational landscape.

ASL Review and Action Plan

The ASL Action Plan was published by Scottish Government in October 2020 in response to the release of Angela Morgan’s review in June 2020. The review found a “significant disconnect between experience and the stated aspirations of the legislation and policy”. We discuss the role of communication and assistive technologies in supporting the actions to address this disconnect later in the section on the ASL Review. A positive outcome from CALL’s response to the Action Plan has been delivery of teaching to under- and post-graduate students in Moray House.

International Council of Education Advisers

The second report of the International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA) was published in December 2020 and the proposal that the Scottish educational system should be ‘universally designed’ is of particular interest. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a widely used framework in inclusive education world-wide and features in many of our CALL Scotland professional learning offers. UDL is based around concepts of:

• multiple means of engagement, recognising that “learners differ markedly in the ways in which they can be engaged or motivated to learn”;
• multiple means of representation, where we design learning with an understanding that “learners differ in the ways that they perceive and comprehend information that is presented to them”;
• multiple means of action and expression, which accepts and plans for learners who “differ in the ways that they can navigate a learning environment and express what they know”.

It is evident that UDL can improve opportunities for inclusion for learners with additional support needs and the ICEA report argues that universal design can create a more resilient system and avoid “crisis-driven responses that are typically insufficient and that incur temporary and sometimes lasting harm as a result”. We will seek to work with partners to raise awareness of the role of UDL in 2021-2022.

1:1 Device Initiatives

Accessibility and universal design are even more important in a context where more and more learners have access to a personal digital device, and where Scottish Government has committed to “provide every school pupil in Scotland with a laptop or tablet” by 2026.

A personal digital device offers huge potential for a learner with additional support needs, particularly now that mainstream devices and applications have much improved built-in accessibility tools. It is essential that devices provided – whether based on Windows, iOS or ChromeOS – are accessible for learners with additional support needs but years of experience and evidence tells us that this cannot be assumed or taken for granted. For example, parents, teachers and colleagues in the ATLAS group report that some learners with ASN in some local authorities are not being provided with essential apps and resources because the processes for carrying out Data Protection Impact Assessments is onerous and time consuming (see Accessibility Standards, Equality and GDPR legislation). It appears that practice and provision varies across the country. There is no point in providing a learner with a device if he or she cannot access it, and we hope that the Scottish Government initiative will improve provision and equality of access to digital technologies for all learners. We propose the development of national Accessibility Standards for devices and digital learning resources, to ensure that learners with additional support needs are able to access digital learning.

Secondly, some learners with more complex needs require a more specialised response either because devices provided as standard by the local authority are not the optimum resource, or because additional assistive hardware or software is required to provide access.

These issues are discussed in 1:1 Digital Technology.

OECD Review of Curriculum for Excellence

The independent review of Curriculum for Excellence was published on 21 June 2021 and Scottish Government response (accepting all 12 recommendations) on 22 June . The review notes that “CfE’s vision to achieve excellence for all students is widely shared by stakeholders and continues to be an inspiring example equated with good curriculum practice internationally”, observes “some ambiguity about the role of knowledge” and suggests that adjustments to assessment in the senior phase may be required. We felt that additional support for learning and inclusion did not seem to be adequately considered by the review, which given that 32.3% of learners are identified as having an additional support need, seems remarkable. A subsequent paper on senior phase assessment was published on 31 August 2021 , and while the date of publication falls outwith the period of this annual report, we note that Scottish Government identifies future options to include:

• the development of a Senior Phase qualification system based on a combination of teacher assessment and exams
• the simplification of S4-5 assessment by “de-cluttering” the historical diet of exams
• the increased use of online exam resources and oral presentations as an assessment format
• the inclusion of pupils views in decisions around assessment
• enhancing the role of vocational qualifications.

It is essential that any developments of the qualification system includes the views of learners with additional support needs (bullet 4) and that online assessment resources are accessible to the 36.6% of learners identified as having additional support needs in mainstream secondary schools. CALL’s expertise with digital question papers and the use of technology as assessment arrangements is particularly relevant here and we hope to be able to contribute to the work of any new organisation that may replace SQA.

Period covered by the Annual Report

The 2020-21 report covers the period from 1 August 2020 to 31 July 2021 to report on activities over the academic session.

Development Priorities 2020-21

Our priorities for development for 2021-22 are to:

• Continue to support local authorities, practitioners, parents and learners through assessment, support, information, advice, provision of free resources, loans of equipment and professional learning.
• Work with colleagues and Scottish Government to: progress National Strategic Commissioning; assist with implementation of the AAC legislation; take forward the actions from the ASL Review; ensure that personal digital technologies provided through 1:1 programmes are accessible for learners with ASN; ensure that SQA digital question papers are accessible for learners with ASN regardless of which devices are used.
• Align CALL’s strategic aims, objectives, structures and processes in response to Scottish education policies and priorities, including the ASL action plan; emerging models and procedures for Commissioning of National Services; and legislation on provision of Communication Equipment.
• Continue to research options for use of the Scottish and Gaelic computer voices on ChromeOS, iOS and Microsoft’s Immersive Reader.
• Continue to support colleagues in local authorities and ATLAS (Assistive Technology for Learning Across Scotland), and raise awareness of the need for Assistive Technology services.
• Develop a 5 year plan for CALL Scotland.


CALL is funded through grants and contracts with around 65% of the annual income provided as a core grant (£367,177) from the Scottish Government Learning Directorate. SQA funds our partnership and development work around use of technology in examinations and assessments.

Assessment and support of individual pupils in schools is funded by partnership agreements with local authorities. We also generate income through delivery of professional learning from CALL and on site in schools and now online.
The core grant has remained static since 2011, while inflation has run at 24.6% to 2020. CALL has received core funding from Scottish Government since 1991 but the grant is still provided on an annual basis, and planning and managing our budgets and the organisation is a challenge. We have succeeded in generating additional income through our partnerships over the last decade, but our financial position is becoming increasingly difficult and at present we cannot afford to recruit a full-time member of the team to replace Allan Wilson. Several members of the CALL team are likely to retire in a few years, and we need to develop a plan to recruit new colleagues and provide succession and a positive future for CALL Scotland.

We hope that funding and stability may improve as National Strategic Commissioning is developed through the Doran process (see Doran Review).


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Cite as

Nisbet, P. 2021, CALL Scotland Annual Report 2020-2021, CALL Scotland. Available at: https://www.research.ed.ac.uk/en/publications/5409f493-0d70-43c8-9300-fda26a41587a

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Last updated: 16 June 2022
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