So, we have finally reached the end of the Scottish Government’s guidance on the presumption of mainstreaming. Having gone through it in that level of detail, I have obviously had the opportunity to form a view on it.
Reading through the previous nine articles, you will see that I have some criticisms and some concerns in relation to individual sections. However, overall, I would say that this guidance is pretty good.
It is well written and well structured. It provides a useful working definition of inclusive education, through its use of the “four key features of inclusion”. It is a practical document, which you can actually see education staff, parents and young people making use of in tackling the issues which arise. The practitioner questions, in particular, are a really useful approach and identify the right questions without dictating an answer in any individual case. It also valiantly attempts to move the terminology on from “mainstreaming” to “inclusive education / inclusion” while hampered with legislation which bears the crossheading “Requirement for mainstream education”.
So, as I was asked on the facebook page recently …
What’s your stance on presumption of mainstreaming?
A good question.
One of the points to consider here is how well the Scottish legislation (Section 15 of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000) implements Scotland’s international obligations (Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities).
But Section 15 was never an attempt to implement the UNCRPD. Scotland’s presumption of mainstreaming law (passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2000) predates the UN Convention (came into force on 3 May 2008) by several years.
At that time, as far as I know, the leading international source for inclusive education was the UNESCO Salamanca Statement (from June 1994), with its call for children with special educational needs to have access to “regular schools” with an inclusive orientation”.
It is a measure of the speed at which progress was made that less than 15 years later, there was a UN Convention requiring all States Parties (including the UK) to ensure that “[p]ersons with disabilities can access an inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live;” And it is therefore perhaps not surprising that legislation which predates that Convention does not fully reflect its requirements. Time for a legislative review?
One of the big problems which exists here is with the terminology. A “presumption of mainstreaming” – is almost tailor made to get parents’ backs up. Why are you taking important decisions about my child on the basis of a presumption? Look at them as an individual and make a decision that is best for them!
And look at how it is structured. A duty on the education authority to ensure that children (subject to the three exceptional exceptions) are provided with school education in schools which are not special schools. The assumption was that the presumption of mainstreaming was something which parents could use to ensure access to “regular schools”. Too often, it is something which is imposed on parents against their better wishes. This is compounded where the provision then does not deliver on reassurances made by education personnel (who may not work within the school in question).
What if the legislative language was not about taking children and deciding where to put them – like some kind of low-grade Sorting Hat? What if, instead of a duty to place children in mainstream schools, the education authority had a duty to make its mainstream schools inclusive for all pupils? What if, instead of a duty to put children in local schools, there was a duty to make local schools accessible, inclusive and welcoming for children with disabilities or additional support needs?
The Equality Act 2010 and the (oft-forgotten) accessibility strategies go some way to achieving this – but not far enough. Just this year, I represented a family who could not send their child to the local school for want of an accessible toilet, which the authority refused to install for cost reasons. Besides, there was an accessible school not too far away and we will pay for a taxi for you. This is – as the law stands – perfectly legal.
It is not my role to make suggestions about how we could improve things, but if it were, I might suggest the following:
- Review and revise the legislation so that it better reflects Scotland’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
- Strengthen the Accessibility Strategies process so that schools and authorities take it seriously, and they are externally audited (as they used to be).
- Schools should give parents at least an indication of the supports available for their child in advance of attendance. Being told that the child will attend, and then the school will determine the level of support required is not at all reassuring.
- If a child is to attend a mainstream school, the right support and financial backing must be given to allow their full participation in all aspects of the school – after school clubs, school trips etc.
- Children and young people should be at the centre of and involved in decisions about their own education.
- A diversity of provision – including smaller, quieter schools – would be of benefit to a diverse range of learners. Those with additional support needs and those without.
Thanks for sticking with me over the course of this ten part series, and for those who have provided useful comments and feedback.