Learning Disability Week 2019

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.

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Notes from the end of the year

Today was my first day back at work, which is always a bit of a difficult gear change.  It was also the first day back at school for many pupils and teachers.

I am not one for New Year’s Resolutions in general, but I do want to post to the main blog more often in 2019, so I will start as I mean to go on …

This post is a bit of a round up of a few things that I wanted to write about towards the end of last year, but didn’t get around to.  So, I will just summarise them here, with the relevant links for you.  It is possible that I will return to some of these in due course, but then again, who knows?

  • The Scottish Commission for Learning Disability released their 2018 report.  The 2018 Learning Disability Statistics Scotland provides data on adults with learning disabilities from local authorities across Scotland.  The report is provisional, as Glasgow City Council’s returns were late.
  • The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland published the report “No Safe Space” following a national investigation into the use of restraint and seclusion in Scotland’s schools.  It recommended (among other things) that the Scottish Government should publish a rights-based national policy and guidance on restraint and seclusion in schools. Children and young people should be involved at all stages of this process to inform its development.
  • On a similar theme, a pupil in Yorkshire has brought legal action against his school over the use of “consequence rooms” containing booths in which children sit in silence for hours as punishment for breaking school rules.  The article in the Guardian gives the details of the case, including the Dept. for Education’s response.
  • It was reported in TESS in December that due to a variety of terms being used for support staff, there is no way of monitoring levels of staffing for pupils with additional support needs.  The article: “Have support-staff numbers dropped? Who knows?” quotes Green MSP Ross Greer as describing the term pupil support assistant as “comically generalised”.  This seemed to me to be a bit of a non-story as the idea that you can quantify number of ASN staff within a mainstream school context is counter-intuitive.  The better additional support needs are understood and supported by all staff, the fewer dedicated ASN staff will be required – so a drop in these numbers should be a good thing, right?
  • The campaign for funded nursery places for deferred pupils, Give Them Time, had a useful blog piece outlining the right to defer in Scotland: “To Defer or not to Defer?
  • The UK Supreme Court delivered a judgement about Section 15 of the Equality Act 2010 (Discrimination arising from disability) in the case of Williams v. Trustees of Swansea University Pension and Assurance Scheme [2018] UKSC 65. Though not an education case, the principles apply – helpfully, the Court confirmed “the relatively low threshold of disadvantage which is sufficient to trigger the requirement to justify under this section.”
  • The Herald carried an article on Boxing Day which reported on the “Demand for radical overhaul of controversial policy on vulnerable pupils.” which quoted several sources questioning the implementation of the presumption of mainstreaming and some of the consequences thereof.  The Cabinet Secretary for Education reiterated the Government’s support for the presumption of mainstreaming.  I think most are agreed that it is not the policy which requires to be overhauled, but its funding and implementation.  (I also think the legal drafting could do with some work, but that’s another story)
  • My third newsletter hit the digital presses just before the end of term, with a focus on exclusion from school.  You can access the newsletter using mailchimp and subscribe for future editions.

And that’s it for now.  Let me know in the comments any topics you’d like to see covered here or in the newsletter.

Learning Disability Week 2018

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:

  1. increasing the extent of participation in education;
  2. improving the physical environment of schools; and
  3. 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.

Get involved with Learning Disability Week and let as many people as possible know about it by applying the handy Learning Disability Week themed designs from the SCLD website to your social media channels and documents.

Use #LDWeek2018 in your posts to raise awareness and help SCLD to keep all news related to the week in one place!

The Scottish Commission for Learning Disability is