It is Learning Disability Week 2018: a week focusing on, and celebrating, the lives and talents of people with learning disabilities in Scotland. The theme this year is “My Generation” – aiming to highlight the experiences of young people with a learning disability, and what changes can be made so that this generation can reach their goals in life.
Education is critical to creating opportunities for children with learning disabilities, and the right support and environment can make all the difference. In Scotland, Section 15 of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000 provides children with learning disabilities with the right to be educated in a mainstream school (although there are some specific exceptions) and the education system in Scotland is structured around this concept of inclusive education.
We’ve come a long way
Educating pupils with learning disabilities in Scotland has evolved considerably since the Warnock Report in 1978 – and the passing into law of the “presumption of mainstreaming” did not mark the end of the process. Far from it. Over subsequent years, there has been a progressive increase in the recognition of the rights of all pupils to have fair access to education.
The Education (Disability Strategies and Pupils’ Educational Records) (Scotland) Act 2002 introduced the requirement for Accessibility Strategies for education authorities and independent schools, with an emphasis on:
- increasing the extent of participation in education;
- improving the physical environment of schools; and
- improving communication with pupils with a disability.
The revised Scottish Government guidance on Accessibility Strategies is particularly good, and well worth reading.
“..through Curriculum for Excellence, the curriculum in Scotland is recognised as the totality of experiences which are planned for children and young people through their education, wherever they are being educated. This totality includes the ethos and life of the school as a community, curriculum areas and subjects, interdisciplinary learning and opportunities for achievement.
“Disabled pupils have exactly the same curriculum entitlements as their non-disabled peers.”
Accessibility Strategies guidance (Scottish Government, 2014)
The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 introduced the concept of additional support needs and aimed to modernise and strengthen the system for supporting children’s learning needs. Alongside this sits the Equality Act 2010 (replacing the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and others) which makes disability discrimination in schools unlawful.
Importantly, the legislative framework (particularly the Equality Act 2010) aims for the inclusion of pupils with disabilities not just in the classroom, but in the playground, after-school clubs, school social events, school trips etc. Full inclusion in the whole life of the school is the aim.
“the way in which a trip is organised can lead to discrimination if, for example, the necessary reasonable adjustments are not made for a disabled pupil. A school is less likely to discriminate if it plans a trip taking into account the need to include all pupils irrespective of their protected characteristics rather than if it arranges a trip and then tries to adapt it to make it inclusive. ”
Technical Guidance for Schools in Scotland, para 3.10 (Equality & Human Rights Commission, 2014)
Has inclusion been achieved in practice?
The framework for inclusion is in place, and when supported by well-trained teachers, assistants, allied health professional and other external agencies, the benefits to the child and the whole class is manifest.
One family, providing evidence to the Education and Skills Committee in 2017 noted that they were encouraged to pursue mainstreaming for their child with Down’s Syndrome when a young friend pointed out:
“that some young people might also want to meet and help people like our daughter and this made us think of a more positive side to mainstreaming, which meant that others (staff included) might benefit and blossom meeting her”
Four years later they and their daughter have not looked back…
The opportunities now available to her, both socially and educationally, could not have been provided to the same extent had their daughter not attended mainstream school. They certainly would not have been available to her forty, or even twenty, years ago.
There are many successful inclusion stories, but there are also concerns that some children’s needs are not being met in mainstream – and an ever present suspicion that finance, and not inclusion is driving the push to mainstream.
So, what’s next?
The Education and Skills Committee’s recent investigation noted inconsistencies across education authorities and schools. The provision was better in schools whose ethos embraced inclusion and where individual teachers adopted inclusive practices as a matter of course. There was also evidence of children from advantaged backgrounds receiving better support as their parents pushed for identification, and after that the appropriate support.
Education authorities and schools need to have a consistent approach to inclusion. It should not be left to a child’s parents (although their involvement in the system is to be encouraged). In instances where mainstream school is not appropriate, this needs to be identified as early as possible – without waiting for crisis point to be reached.
Resources are always an issue, but the resources need to be spent wisely as well. My own view is that significant additional resources spent now on intensive training and awareness building for front-line teaching staff would pay dividends in the not too distant future.
Scottish Government remain committed to mainstreaming, and inclusion, but are reviewing the best way to put these principles into practice.
In their consultation, which closed for comment in February 2018, they cast light on how they intend to support authorities in this process, by introducing a newly created draft guidance for mainstreaming. 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; and
- Outline an inclusive approach which identifies and addresses barriers to learning for all children.
Implementation of the presumption of mainstreaming requires a commitment to inclusive practice. The guidance links inclusive practice with the presumption throughout and includes key features of inclusion and guidance on how to improve inclusive practice in schools. While these could be more strongly worded (and may yet be revised in the final draft), I am of the view that the revised guidance will be an important stepping stone towards a truly inclusive system.
My own response to the Scottish Government consultation on the presumption of mainstreaming can be read elsewhere on this blog.
Additionally, the Scottish Government is researching inclusion in practice to get a wider understanding of the current state of play. It is hoped that the final research report will be available by the end of the summer. Both the consultation responses and the research will be used to inform the final version of the guidance and future policy development and reporting.
Online resources on inclusive education for practitioners are being developed by Education Scotland, along the same lines as the Addressing Dyslexia Toolkit.
These next steps in the journey are of critical importance and all those involved in education must strive to make sure that inclusion is not just jargon, but becomes a daily reality for pupils in every school in Scotland. Children with learning disabilities deserve no less.
I am a trustee of the Scottish Commission for Learning Disability, but this article (as with everything on this site) is a personal view.
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