The passing of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000 brought with it a statutory requirement for education authorities to provide education for all in mainstream schools unless certain exceptions applied. This is known as the “presumption of mainstreaming”.
Since then, there have been many changes in education law in Scotland. As such the legislative framework now requires education authorities to consider a wide range of issues alongside the presumption of mainstream education. When considering placements for children, authorities need to consider: the need to make provision of additional support to children and young people with additional support needs; the need to avoid discrimination (including disability discrimination) and to comply with their public sector equality duty; the need to plan for improving accessibility of all aspects of school life (Education (Disability Strategies and Pupils’ Educational Records) (Scotland) Act 2002); and to consider the wellbeing of children and young people (Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 – still to be brought into force).
The Scottish Government remain committed to a presumption of mainstreaming, and this consultation sets out draft guidance for education authorities. According to the Scottish Government:
“This non-statutory guidance will present a vision for mainstreaming, building on the best available evidence on inclusive approaches to education. It will aim to touch upon other, complementary policies as part of a joined-up approach. The guidance has been developed to support all local authorities, all schools, and all teachers and practitioners.”
The four key principles are to:
- Improve outcomes
- Meet the needs of all children and young people
- Support and empower children, young people and all those involved in their education.
- Outline an inclusive approach which identifies and addresses barriers to learning for all children.
So, does it do that?
The principles outlined above do support a wider goal of inclusion. However, the key features outlined to support these principles often fall short of promoting true inclusion. A strengthening of the wording of the expectations is required to create clear and unambiguous guidance for local authorities.
The guidance does seem to deal in generalities and overlooks the fact that decisions require to be made about an individual and their particular needs and circumstances. Mainstream education requires to be properly supported (and resourced) to ensure it is properly inclusive, while recognising that it will not be the answer for everyone.
My view is that the guidance requires to focus on the needs of the individual child in order to achieve the inclusion goals set out by the Scottish Government.
For further comments on the guidance as currently drafted, please see my full consultation response, below.
It is right that the vision for inclusive education focuses on an inclusive approach. However, it should be noted that inclusion cannot be achieved by mere geography. A legislative requirement defined in terms of the location in which a child or young person is educated is necessarily limited in scope, ambition, and its ability to bring about positive outcomes.
The four key principles outlined rightly underline the importance of the impact and effect of mainstreaming. If a placement is not improving outcomes for the pupil and/or meeting the pupil’s needs, it cannot be regarded as a successful or beneficial placement. An inclusive approach is not solely measured in addressing barriers to learning, but also in how the placement is experienced, i.e. does the pupil feel included?
Key features of inclusion – present, participating, achieving and supported
The expectations are curiously worded, and could be strengthened. For example:
“All children and young people will be entitled to receive a full time education in a school which best suits their needs.”
could instead read
“All children and young people will receive a full time education in a school which best suits their needs.”
“All children and young people should be fully engaged in the life of their school, through the inclusive ethos, culture and values of the school.”
could instead read
“All children and young people will be fully engaged in the life of their school.”
The expectations under the heading “present” are contradictory when it comes to exclusions. The idea that the expectation is of “a reduced level of exclusions” suggests that there is a level of exclusion which nonetheless can be taken as evidence that a child is included in their placement. Given the highly detrimental effect of exclusions, as outlined in the Scottish Government’s own guidance on exclusion, this is a surprising position.
Similarly, the draft guidance goes on to suggest that unlawful exclusions should “never be used without a formal planning process”. If they are unlawful, they should never be used, full stop. A formal planning process cannot make the unlawful lawful.
Under the heading “participating” the right to participate in the life of school (including school trips and extra-curricular activity), is qualified by the phrase “as fully as possible”. This is disappointing, in that these matters are where inclusion (and exclusion) are often most keenly felt. An educational placement cannot be fully inclusive if a pupil is excluded from the whole life of the school.
Entitlements and options for provision
This question sets out an entitlement to education. Elsewhere the guidance uses the term “full-time” education. This should be a core element of this entitlement. Too often children and young people with additional support needs do not experience a full-time education. This is not inclusive, nor is it suggestive of an inclusive placement.
Para 22. indicates that the child’s views should be sought on the type of provision to be made to meet their learning needs. The education authority should be advised to consider the use of independent advocacy to assist with this process.
The key question set out here is about the suitability of “mainstream provision”. This is a fundamentally flawed approach. In considering the suitability of mainstream provision in general, the danger is that the individual circumstances are not properly taken into account.
In line with the requirements of the Additional Support for Learning (Changes in School Education) (Scotland) Regulations 2005, the consideration should be of what specific mainstream placement is being proposed or considered, together with the details of the support which is likely to be available.
The draft guidance suggests that the onus is on the local authority to demonstrate why the exemption could apply. This is unhelpful. Section 15 of the 2000 Act does not impose such an onus. It also presupposes that it would be the local authority seeking to argue for an exemption, whereas it may in many cases be a parent.
It is correct to say that exemptions do not automatically apply – but nor do they automatically not apply, either.
The draft guidance says that an “essential role” for local authorities is to “strike a balance for the presumption of mainstream education for as many children and young people as possible”. It is not clear what is being balanced against what here.
Para 29 – states that “a full experience of school life” is important, but this must be judged subjectively. That is, how included does the pupil feel their experience of school life is? It is important that evidence of any distress or negative reactions on the part of the pupil is fully considered, even where this is exhibited primarily at home or otherwise outwith school.
Para 30 – the phrase “options have been exhausted” incorrectly suggests that mainstream must be tried before a special or flexible placement can be considered. Where an exemption applies, then a special school placement may be provided, even if the child has never set foot in a mainstream school.
The first five are questions about the individual learner, whereas those which follow seem to be more general questions. It is extremely important that the focus remains firmly on the individual. It is of no relevance that staff at a school have a good understanding of the barriers faced by children and young people, if the understanding of a particular child’s barriers is limited.
While the focus on the impact on other children is set out in the wording of the Act, the exemplar of “disruptive behaviours” is less than helpful – such behaviours are likely to be evidence of distress and therefore of issues with the suitability of the placement for the child.
The idea of balancing the needs of all children and young people within the school is an uncomfortable wording which suggests a compromise. The law requires education authorities to meet the needs of all pupils – not to set the needs of one off against those of another.
Unreasonable public expenditure
As set out in the Audit Scotland report, “Moving to Mainstream” (2003), there will be additional costs to mainstreaming. Therefore the additional costs of making provision and support available in local mainstream schools cannot and should not be regarded as unreasonable public expenditure.