Mainstreaming, I presume? (Part 10 – Conclusions)

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:

  1. Review and revise the legislation so that it better reflects Scotland’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  2. Strengthen the Accessibility Strategies process so that schools and authorities take it seriously, and they are externally audited (as they used to be).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Children and young people should be at the centre of and involved in decisions about their own education.
  6. 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.

Mainstreaming, I presume? (Part 9)

And so, we finally get to the core of the guidance, which is the duty itself and – almost as importantly – the three exceptions to that duty.  As the guidance notes: “If there is doubt about the suitability of mainstream provision, it is the role of the education authority to use the legislation to weigh up a range of matters including the child or young person’s wellbeing, in order to reach a conclusion on the application of the three exceptions..”

Continue reading “Mainstreaming, I presume? (Part 9)”

Mainstreaming, I presume? (Part 8)

The Scottish Government guidance we have been looking at is called “Guidance on the presumption to provide education in a mainstream setting“, and yet it is only now – on page 13 of the document – that we reach consideration of the sometimes thorny issue of deciding on the right provision for a child or young person.

Continue reading “Mainstreaming, I presume? (Part 8)”

Mainstreaming, I presume … (Part 2)

In the first part of this series (Mainstreaming, I presume … (Part 1)) I looked at the legislative basis for the presumption of mainstreaming.  In this next part, we will be looking at the question of inclusion.

The term “inclusion” is not used in the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000, or in the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004.  In fairness, it is a difficult concept to define in statutory terms.  However, the explanatory notes to the 2000 Act, talk about the presumption of mainstreaming in these terms: “This section aims to establish what is effectively a presumption in favour of ‘mainstream education’ for all children in Scotland. It will strengthen the rights of children with special educational needs to be included alongside their peers in mainstream schools.”  So, a right to inclusion has always been the intention of the legislation.

From an international perspective, it is Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which best outlines the position, with its requirement on signatories (including the UK) to “ensure an inclusive education system at all levels”.

It goes on to require:

a) Persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability, and that children with disabilities are not excluded from free and compulsory primary education, or from secondary education, on the basis of disability;

b) Persons 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;

c) Reasonable accommodation of the individual’s requirements is provided;

d) Persons with disabilities receive the support required, within the general education system, to facilitate their effective education;

e) Effective individualized support measures are provided in environments that maximize academic and social development, consistent with the goal of full inclusion.

Article 24(2), UNCRPD

The UNCRPD is not currently incorporated into UK or Scots law in the same way that the European Convention on Human Rights is, or the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child will be (under current proposals).  However, it remains an international obligation (albeit one which the UK Government have accepted with two fairly substantial reservations – see ALLFIE on Article 24).  Governments, including the Scottish Government, are required to have regard to the Convention in making law and policy and to take steps to ensure its effective implementation.  The Convention can also be referred to by individuals taking legal action, as an aid to the interpretation of existing law (as it is presumed that neither Westminster nor Holyrood Parliaments would legislate in a way which is incompatible with its international obligations).

“A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People” is the Scottish Government’s delivery plan for the UNCRPD to 2021.  However, this does not make specific mention of the right to inclusive education, or of Article 24, or of the presumption of mainstreaming.  It does make mention of “Disabled people are visible and participating within communities, learning and education, volunteering and employment.” and “Equal opportunities for disabled people in education and employment.” – which captures some of it, I suppose.

The Ministerial Foreword to the guidance, however, could hardly be clearer in its intentions re: inclusion, with the Cabinet Secretary for Education spelling out the benefits of inclusion: “affords all children and young people the opportunity to be a part of a community, boosting their emotional wellbeing and aiding the development of social skills.” as well as being clear on the limitations of the presumption of mainstreaming: “Being present in a mainstream school should not be the primary marker of successful inclusion.”  There is also, a very welcome (and child-centred) acknowledgement of the importance of how inclusion is experienced by the individual pupil.

The introduction to the guidance then gets to grips with what is meant by “inclusion”.  This is helpful, actually.  The “Scottish vision for inclusive education” is pretty vague as you might expect – but usefully links an inclusive approach to the achievement of equity and excellence (the tiresome two watchwords of modern education policy in Scotland).

What is more helpful, in my view, is the identification of four key features of inclusion:

  • Present
  • Participating
  • Achieving
  • Supported

The guidance goes on to consider each of these features in turn, as will I …

Edited (18 November, 2019) following helpful input from A24 Scotland.

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

Mainstreaming, I presume … (Part 1)

In March of this year, the Scottish Government published revised guidance on the presumption of mainstreaming.  It is now November, and I have not yet blogged about it (although I did post my consultation response on the draft revised guidance).  I think my inaction may be due to the size of the task, so I have decided to break it down into smaller chunks, and deal with it a bit at a time.

The Legislation

We’ll start with what the law says about this.  Introduced as an amendment during the passage of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000, the ‘presumption of mainstreaming’ is found in Section 15 of that Act.

The phrase ‘presumption of mainstreaming’ is an odd one to start with.  It is not used in the legislation at all.  The crossheading used in the Act is “Requirement for mainstream education” and the section heading is “Requirement that education be provided in mainstream schools”.  In legal terms, there is no such thing as a mainstream school, and so the section itself, as we will see, takes the form of a prohibition on providing education in special schools (with some exceptions).

Interestingly, the guidance itself takes a slightly different title: “Guidance on the presumption to provide education in a mainstream setting“.  So, for the same single section we have: mainstream education, mainstream schools and mainstream setting.  What the difference is between these three, if any, is not clear.

The Section itself says this:

15 Requirement that education be provided in mainstream schools

(1) Where an education authority, in carrying out their duty to provide school education to a child of school age, provide that education in a school, they shall unless one of the circumstances mentioned in subsection (3) below arises in relation to the child provide it in a school other than a special school.

(2) If a child is under school age, then unless one of the circumstances mentioned in subsection (3) below arises in relation to the child, an education authority shall, where they—
(a) provide school education in a school to the child, provide it in; or
(b) under section 35 of this Act, enter into arrangements for the provision of school education in a school to the child, ensure that the arrangements are such that the education is provided in, a school other than a special school.

(3) The circumstances are, that to provide education for the child in a school other than a special school—
(a) would not be suited to the ability or aptitude of the child;
(b) would be incompatible with the provision of efficient education for the children with whom the child would be educated; or
(c) would result in unreasonable public expenditure being incurred which would not ordinarily be incurred,and it shall be presumed that those circumstances arise only exceptionally.

(4) If one of the circumstances mentioned in subsection (3) above arises, the authority may provide education for the child in question in a school other than a special school; but they shall not do so without taking into account the views of the child and of the child’s parents in that regard.

The legislation is fairly clear on its expectations, and it is fair (to my mind) to describe this as amounting to a ‘presumption’ of mainstreaming.

One interesting quirk of all of this is that the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 – which postdated this legislation coming into force – changed the definition of “special school” – which effectively changed the scope of this duty.

Section 29(1) of the 2004 Act, defines ‘special school’ as

(a) a school, or

(b) any class or other unit forming part of a public school which is not itself a special school,

the sole or main purpose of which is to provide education specially suited to the additional support needs of children or young persons selected for attendance at the school, class or (as the case may be) unit by reason of those needs.

So a pupil who attends a Language and Communication Unit (for example) which sits within a mainstream school, is not being educated in a mainstream setting or receiving a mainstream education, according to the Act – regardless of how many opportunities for joining in activities with mainstream peers may be offered.

The Act also does not address situations in which there may be a split placement.  Is a pupil who attends a mainstream school part-time and a special school part-time being educated in accordance with this statutory requirement, or not?

Finally, the presumption of mainstreaming appears as a ground of refusal in the legislation concerning placing requests (Schedule 2 of the 2004 Act).  Ground for refusal 3(1)(g) applies where the ‘specified school’ (i.e. the one requested by the parent)  is a special school, if placing the child in the school would “breach the requirement in section 15(1) of the 2000 Act”.

As set out in the recent Upper Tribunal case of Midlothian Council v. PD, this effectively means that, for a parent to be successful in a placing request for a special school, they will have to show that one or more of the exceptions ( a to c, above) applies.

That more or less covers the legislation.  Next up … Inclusion and the presumption.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Case summary – Midlothian Council v. PD (Upper Tribunal for Scotland)

Since the beginning of 2018, further appeals in additional support needs cases go from the Tribunal to the Upper Tribunal for Scotland.  It has taken until now, however, for a case to actually get as far as that and yield a decision for us to look at.  Let us set aside for the moment my own personal disappointment that it was not one of my cases, and the fact that it is only a determination of the question of permission to appeal, and see what the case actually says.

The case in question is Midlothian Council v. PD [2019] UT 52 (PDF) and it is an appeal against a decision of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Health and Education Chamber) to grant a placing request appeal in favour of the appellant (the parent of a child with additional support needs).

Continue reading “Case summary – Midlothian Council v. PD (Upper Tribunal for Scotland)”

Motion on mainstreaming

On Wednesday 30th January 2019, the Scottish Parliament agreed the following motion (S5M-15607):

That the Parliament notes the comments made by the OECD that inclusion is one of the key strengths of the Scottish education system; believes that the presumption to mainstream pupils has laudable intentions and that it works well for the majority of young people in Scotland’s schools; recognises however the very considerable concern that has been expressed by many teachers, teaching assistants, children’s charities and parents’ groups that a growing number of young people with special educational needs are not being well served by being placed in inclusive mainstream education; believes that this is putting additional pressures on teachers and young people in classrooms across Scotland, making it more difficult to support the individual needs of each child; in light of the recent evidence presented to Parliament, calls on the Scottish Government to work with local government partners to review the presumption to mainstream policy to ensure there can be more effective uptake of the provision of places in special schools and specialist units and utilisation of specialist staff, and, agrees that this review should be founded on a continuing commitment to a presumption to mainstream and on the need to ensure that children and young people’s additional support needs are met, to enable them to reach their full potential, from within whichever learning provision best suits their learning needs, and notes the forthcoming publication of revised guidance, tools and advice for school staff, and national research, on the experiences of children and young people with additional support needs.

The motion was brought by Liz Smith MSP (Conservative) with the section from “and agrees that this review..” to the end, being added by an amendment brought by John Swinney MSP (SNP), the Cabinet Secretary for Education.

It is significant that the motion carried cross-party support, with very little disagreement except on minor points of emphasis.  While the motion itself speaks about a review of the presumption of mainstreaming, the Cabinet Secretary seemed to go further than that, referencing “a review of the implementation of additional support for learning, including where children learn”.

It is worth mentioning the solid work that the Education and Skills Committee have put into grappling with this question over a significant period. In addition, several voluntary organisations have worked effectively to keep the issue in the spotlight.

I have some slight concerns as to the length of time that a review might take, as it is not clear what form this is going to take, or over what timescale.

Indeed, as Mark McDonald MSP pointed out during the debate, the last call for a review into the presumption of mainstreaming was some three years ago.  That review has not yet concluded!  Draft revised guidance on the presumption of mainstreaming was out for consultation about a year ago.  (You can read my response to the consultation on the presumption of mainstreaming guidance here.)  The Scottish Government website still claims that updated guidance “will be published towards the end of 2018”.

It is to be hoped that the substantial work which has already been undertaken here means that the review process will not be a lengthy one.

As the motion is keen to point out, there is no intention here to depart from the principle of the presumption of mainstreaming, rather to consider how it is being implemented in practice.  In my view this is the correct approach.  It has always been accepted that mainstreaming would be more expensive than a system of special schools (cf. “Moving to Mainstream” report by Audit Scotland, 2003) – but it has been adopted as a principle because it is the right thing to do.  The policy must be properly resourced as a matter of urgency.  It is not a quick fix, but a long-term commitment which is required.  The resources must also be spent on the right things. For example, simply throwing Pupil Support Assistants at the problem will not help, and may make things worse.

The motion also mentions the “more effective uptake of the provision of places in special schools and specialist units”.  The Doran Review was commissioned by the Scottish Government and published in November 2012.  In the six years which have passed since then little progress has been made in terms of the recommendations it made certainly insofar as they related to Scotland’s grant-aided special schools.  A draft ten year strategy on the learning provision for children and young people with complex additional support needs was published in June 2017.  My response to that consultation can be found here.  The strategy has not yet been finalised, much less implemented (and it was supposed to cover the period 2017-2026).  Meanwhile, the Scottish Government are paying millions of pounds a year to the grant-aided special schools, some of which are woefully under capacity, catering to just a handful of children.  These national resources should be fully funded by Scottish Government and able to select their own pupils, just like the only mainstream grant-aided school is (Jordanhill School).  This would mean that pupils would be accepted to these schools on the basis of need, rather than by who manages to negotiate the local authority / Tribunal system the best – a process that inevitably benefits children of more affluent parents.  There should also be much more emphasis on outreach services to mainstream schools from these national centres of excellence, but this does not currently happen to any great extent.  I advanced these arguments in my consultation response, but I am not holding my breath.

We also need to be careful that the review is not hijacked by those who oppose the principle of mainstreaming altogether.  Some of the language used in the Scotsman coverage for example, is less than helpful – “extra burden on overstretched teachers”; “some ASN pupils could be disruptive”; “a daily struggle to control classes”.

Overall, the review offers an opportunity to press for a system which delivers the right support in the right place at the right time for pupils with additional support needs – we should take it, with enthusiasm and energy.