This week is Learning Disability Week 2019! This year, the theme is community. The campaign provides an opportunity to celebrate the contribution of people with learning disabilities to their communities while also raising awareness of some of the barriers they can face in doing so.
As the Scottish Commission for Learning Disability highlight:
Communities are at their best when everyone is active…connected…and feels included.
At their best communities – including learning communities – provide something for everyone to benefit from, boosting wellbeing, preventing loneliness and isolation, and improving outcomes.
Inclusion is the overarching approach adopted in schools in Scotland – with the presumption of mainstreaming central to that policy. Although this policy has many detractors if a recent study is to be believed, when it works, this inclusive ethos enables children with learning disabilities to play an active part in their school communities. The Additional support for learning: experiences of pupils and those that support them report found that most pupils with additional support needs at mainstream schools felt they had lots of friends, that it was easy to make friends, and that they were included in the life of the school.
By educating pupils who have learning disabilities and those who do not side by side, friendships and support networks can blossom between children who may not have crossed paths in previous generations.
There is still, however, work to be done. Keys to Life is Scotland’s learning disability strategy. It recognises learning as one of the strategic priorities, and highlights the following:
- Teachers have a pivotal role in securing positive experiences for people with learning disabilities.
- Many teachers don’t have the skills and resources they need to support pupils with learning disabilities.
- Testing and attainment structures do not reflect the potential of children with learning disabilities and how they can succeed.
- Transition periods are particularly challenging for people with learning disabilities.
- There are a lack of appropriate choices for people with learning disabilities at school and college.
The rights that pupils with learning disabilities have under both the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010 should assist in tackling some of these issues, but that does rely on an increased awareness of those rights among educators, parents and pupils.
A school is at the heart of its community, and by adopting an inclusive ethos, properly supported, they can be instrumental in building a genuinely inclusive school experience for all pupils.
Full Disclosure: I am a board member of the Scottish Commission for Learning Disability.