Is there anything to fear from AI?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is on the move. In wikipedia AI is defined as “Artificial intelligence ( AIis intelligence demonstrated by machines, as opposed to intelligence of humans and other animals. Example tasks in which this is done include speech recognition, computer vision, translation between (natural) languages, as well as other mappings of inputs.”

In education AI will write you a decent essay, offer a sketched out set of lesson plans and raise future concerns about the place of writing in our curriculum.

Some of the AI outputs can be quite impressive, others can be disturbing. On your behalf I experimented with an image generator AI and set it various prompts linked to inclusive education.

The responses below are variable. I did wish that I had utilised AI before the text I contributed to was published. I posted the title of the book as a prompt and was fascinated by the images generated. The book’s title is “Education in an Altered World: Pandemic, Crises and Young People Vulnerable to Educational Exclusion” and the image generation’s response –

Other prompts offered even more interesting responses. my favourite being the response generated by the prompt “Intersectionality”

Such striking images!

Though some images do translate well from the prompt e.g. diverse group, young people, smiling happy, hyperrealistic

A similar kind of prompt generates slightly off pictures – faces, children, diverse, group , smiling, happy

Not sure I’d like to be working with that group!

To finish – you can make your own mind up about how image AI views “the future of Scottish education

Education in an Altered World

Available in a bookshop near you or online from Bloomsbury – it’s the publication of a new book charting responses across education provisions for the marginalised individuals and groups during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The book grew out of a series of presentations at a seminar considering education’s responses to the pandemic. The presentations were drawn from across the globe perhaps weighted to Europe yet they covered a diverse set of groups of children and young people and ways that practitioners continued to ensure that gained access to inclusive and equitable education.

I was very pleased and very chuffed to have been asked to write up my contribution by our very helpful editors. The key focus for presenters was to consider the impact of the pandemic on the learning and well-being of a diverse set of groups such as refugees, Roma children and those living in impoverished conditions in a range of countries including Canada, Romania, England, Italy, Austria and Iceland. My work complimented this focus by considering systemic change at a global level and also mentioning some developments in Scotland. in the end, my chapter concluded the book and linked systemic themes with the focused presentations.

With a summarising introduction from the editors the book is organised in five parts with fifteen chapters.

Part I: Critical Understandings of Educational Exclusion and Crisis

Part II: Teaching and Learning under the Shadow of a Global Pandemic: Exclusions and Possibilities

Part III: Addressing Social Exclusion: Illuminating Possibilities for Inclusion in and through Crisis

Part IV: Including Excluded Individuals and Communities in Times of Crisis

Part V: Disability and Crisis; and

Conclusion. “Out of Crisis the New Future: Concluding Thoughts on Inclusive and Equitable Education For All With a View From Scotland”

Bloomsbury, the publishers, describe the book thus: “This book brings together world-leading researchers and scholars in the fields of inclusive education, disability studies, refugee education and special education to examine critical and original perspectives of the meaning and consequences of educational and social exclusion. Drawing together, the contributors consider how children already vulnerable to exclusion might be supported and educated in and through times of global pandemic and crisis. They also identify broad prospects for education and inclusion in, through and beyond times of global pandemic and crisis.”

Obviously I am biased and think the book is a sound addition to the great library of works on inclusive and equitable education. Just as an afterthought I placed the title into an artificial intelligence image generator. It came up with four images the best of which I thought was the one below

Education in an Altered World Pandemic, Crises and Young People Vulnerable to Educational Exclusion

I hope you get round to picking it up soon and that you enjoy it!

Fantastic Pictures of a Future Society

Last month the postponed celebration of Robert Owen’s Anniversary took place in the World heritage site of New Lanark. I was fortunate enough to be be invited to speak within the education theme. If you have an interest in the development of education particularly in the early years, the start of the influence of capitalism and ways to build a better society then you really must visit New Lanark.

The conference brought together a wide range of international speakers focused on Robert Owen’s educational legacy (more on that to come), company towns, slavery and colonialism education, co-operation and the idea of world heritage and global and local communities. The breadth of these themes are a measure of Robert Owen’s influence in so many areas. This blog gives a short summary of the presentation entitled “Fantastic Pictures of a Future Society.”

The title comes from The Communist Manifesto and summarised Marx and Engels views on Robert Owen and the Utopian Socialists. They saw them as an example of the first yearnings “for a general reconstruction of society.”

Owen’s legacy was embodied in the the cotton mills of New Lanark and in his time, from 1800 to 1825, when he managed the factory. In that place and time he put into practice his thoughts about a new society, provision for his workforce and implemented his changes in education. He also made a heap of money. While talking about Owen I linked his legacy in part to some of my experiences in education.

Robert Owen :scenes of New Lanark and its link to colonialism

In the mid-1980s I started as a teacher in John Bosco Secondary School in the Gorbals. We used the book, in the middle of the slide above, in lessons about prejudice and discrimination as part of the Modern Studies course. The text Roots of Racism is free to download from the link in Further Reading (See below)

While building upon the of his father-in-law David Dale Owen’s major contribution in New Lanark was extending the range of practices attending to the workers’ social needs. Previously a significant proportion of the workforce were young pauper apprentices, the care experienced youth of their day. Owen moved to employ families and provided early learning care for the children enabling the women to work in the mills. For a small payment the equivalent of a nursery school was opened. In addition he limited the working hours of children and young people and offered them school education too. The sketch of the classroom in action is beside photographs of the present day setup in the school room of New Lanark.

Owen offered a paternalistic view of a New Society for his workers while minoring their working practices and character through his silent monitor. The silent monitor meant that Owen could judge and evaluate his workforce on a four point scale.

in 2002 I joined the Scottish schools inspectorate as they launched their self-evaluation manual How Good Is Our School? which operated with quality indicators differentiated on a four point scale mirroring Owen’s monitoring from 1800s . Perhaps we could have saved a lot of money and effort by using Owen’s block of wood to inspect schools and centres! Perhaps not.

My presentation considered a wide range of points connected to factory towns, the present-day use by management consultants of Owen’s ideas and New Lanark as a form of institutionalised social order. I also aimed to share an evaluation (on a four point scale of course) of the quality of educational provision at New Lanark in terms of pupils’ learning experiences, learners’ personal and social development and leadership.

There are a lot of questions about Owen’s leadership, his promotion of a set of practices about social provision and education. However comma his work as personified at New Lanark is remarkable and places him as an original thinker and practitioner of ideas linked to socialism, put into practice on the banks of the Clyde in 1800 to 1825 when he was in charge at New Lanark. Two points remain to be made first he viewed education for all as important. Secondly, he built his fortune on cotton picked by slaves – his fortune at New Lanark was built on the banks of the rivers Clyde and Mississippi.

Remember and visit New Lanark.

Further reading

Communist Manifesto with its mention of Owen’s socialist utopianism

Owen as an educator / Margery Browning in Robert Owen, prince of cotton spinners (1971)

Roots of Racism

Michael Morris The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Improvement: David Dale, Robert Owen and New Lanark Cotton

What a sensation

On 23rd October 1971 a major event took place in Scottish football when Partick Thistle beat Celtic Football Club 4-1 in a domestic cup final. I was there and this is my story as publish din the above book by Lorne Gardner.

You can view my contribution at 2:34 and 2:43 in this video.

I could have been a Jags fan.

The second football game my father took me to was Partick Thistle overcoming the Czech side Spartak Brno on a cold winter’s night in November 1963.   It was a great European night an exciting game, goals and thrills throughout.  Even so, it wasn’t able to compete in my mind with the first game I went to – Celtic v Real Madrid a friendly played a year earlier. I was to be a Celtic fan. 

However, in October 1971 I was not only there for Thistle’s semi final and final in that season’s Scottish League Cup. I played my part.  In the games against Falkirk on October 6 and against Celtic on Saturday 23rd October I was a ball boy.  Indeed sometimes I think I was THE ball boy. 

Back then returning the ball to the field of play at Hampden Park was one of most sought-after ball boying jobs not just in Scotland but across UK football stadia. Over 70 applicants for 15 places (12 for a game and 3 reserves).  It wasn’t just the sheer joy at participating in the games with the amateurs of Queens Park whose home was at Hampden. In addition Scotland’s national stadium hosted international fixtures, prestigious friendlies and cup tournaments too.   Real bonus games for the successful ball boy applicants.

The first perk of the job was being able to stroll through the crowds at front door at Hampden on match days.   Before games fans would be there  waiting  around for team buses or checking out guest arrivals. A few quick steps into the entrance a nod to the blazered club secretary then across the hall, through the glass panelled doors and then past the inner sanctum of the dressing rooms home to the right,  away team’s to the left. 

Before games ballboys at Hampden assembled in their room at the bottom of the stairs below the dressing rooms and across from the officials’ room. Players would walk past our door to get down onto the field for a look around at their state-of-the-conditions check.  This was the best opportunity for the team of ball boys to pester the stars of the game for their autograph. In the semi-final game against Falkirk my autograph tally was high. Several Thistle players kindly added their signature on my programme and the centre forward for Falkirk, one Alex Ferguson obliged too. 

That night I adopted the belt and braces approach and left my autograph book on the small table just  inside the door of the Thistle dressing room to collate some more names in the little blue book. Of the Falkirk game I remember little though for each semi I was operating on the touchlines at the sides of the pitch. . 

Having been on the sidelines for the semi-finals I had the choice between the Mount Florida end or the goals in front of the East terracing.  Celtic fans would have the east terracing to themselves, while the west end (naturally)   would host the Thistle fans and Celtic support too.  Given the shared arrangement then it was the west for me. My reasoning being that the Mount Florida end, with opposing fans aside each other, would offer a better  Cup Final atmosphere. 

Once this game started there was little atmosphere as a result of Thistle onslaught’s;  attack of shock and awe. Each attempt from a Thistle player, no matter the distance from goal or number of defenders around them resulted with the ball in the back of the net. By half way through the first half both sets of fans were oddly silent.  The Jags were winning, already two up. 

Not many people realise that as a ball boy there are few occasions you are required to kick the ball in guiding it back to the game. The job mostly requires handling skills, throwing the ball back or rolling it towards one of the players.  However this game required a kicker’s intervention to ensure Thistle’s mauling of Celtic could continue. 

My vital contribution, well my vital double contribution came with goals three and four. Each one crossed the line then trundled and nestled in the back of the net. In each case the ball slowed to a dead stop.   It seemed to me that time stood still. It was quiet. You can still view a teenage ball boy toepoking a ball with greater effect and exasperation in game highlights. 

By the fourth goal the Thistle fans were wild in disbelief and joy.  Celtic fans were still there;  silent observers of their annihilation.

At the end  of the game, ball boys changed in their room at the room before the tunnel,  below Thistle’s dressing room.  Shouts and songs of joy were continual for twenty minutes or so after the game. We changed and waited outside the door to complete our autograph requests. 

When Thistle left I entered their dressing room surveying the littered mess of their celebrations. Two empty champagne bottles were  scattered on the floor. It seemed obvious to me these were irreplaceable souvenirs of an earth-shattering victory.  In those days you could still get money back on ginger bottles , it may have crossed my mind that champagne bottles might also have a cover charge. 

Back home the programmes, the autograph book and champagne bottles were all duly admired by Thistle supporting teammates of the club I played for at the time. I gave one of champagne bottles to a Thistle supporting fan and never ever tried to get any money back on the other.  It was disposed of sometime later.

I still have the programmes from the semi-final and final. That old autograph book has a couple of pages with the scrawling signatures of the Thistle team.  On occasion to this day when in conversation with Thistle fans I let them know of my crucial role in their team’s victory on that October day at Hampden Park.   

Global Education Monitoring Report 2020 Inclusion and Education

Screenshot 2020-06-30 at 12.30.16UNESCO’s Global Educational Monitoring (a true GEM!)  Report 2020 was themed on Inclusion and Education. It now provides the new agenda for changes in education systems and schools towards inclusive education across the world.  The impact of COVID-19 has been universal across the globe leading to  globalised crisis in education that then impacts on specific groups to amplify inequalities. The GEM Report 2020 provides the roadmap into transformative change of education and schools for all.

You can check out the GEM report, its summary or an easy read version at this link

Following Mel Ainscow’s  talking points on Twitter I’ve extracted some GEMs from the report as a taster

Introduction ” .. the Report asks whether it really is necessary to seek justifications for inclusive education to be pursued.   It notes that debating the benefits of inclusive education can be seen as tantamount to debating the benefits of the abolition of slavery, or indeed of apartheid.” 

“A key barrier to inclusions the lack of belief that is possible and desirable.”

“While some countries are transitioning towards inclusion, segregation is still prevalent”

“Teachers , teaching materials and learning environments often ignore the benefits of embracing diversity”

“All over the world, discrimination is based on gender, remoteness, wealthdisability, ethnicity, language, migration, displacement, incarceration, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion and other beliefs and attitudes; the Covid-19 pandemic has added new layers of exclusion.”

“Responses to the Covid-19 crisis have not paid enough attention to inclusion of all learners”

“Education systems, step by step, are embracing inclusion in education irrespective of students’ ability, background and identity. Responding to diversity of needs in education is necessary to accomplish broad social inclusion objectives.”

“Statistical measurement of disability is beginning to catch up with the social model”

Using national definitions, the share of students in Europe deemed to have special education needs ranges from 1% in Sweden to 20% in Scotland. These variations reflect institutional rather than population differences.

Assumptions about what learners can or cannot do, based on assigned categories, should be replaced with understanding of every individual’s abilities and their experience of exclusion and inclusion.

Equity and inclusion will not be achieved without adequate funding reaching schools and students according to need

Curricula should adapt to learners’ diverse needs and aspire to an inclusive society

Textbooks can exclude by perpetuating stereotypes through omission and misrepresentation

Teachers need to be prepared to teach students with varied backgrounds and abilities

Inclusive teaching requires teachers to recognize the experiences and abilities of every student and to be open to diversity

Inclusive approaches to teaching connect classroom and life experiences in problem-solving activities and require teachers to make a range of options available to all, not some, students.

Teachers tend to have positive attitudes towards inclusion but also doubts about its feasibility

The Report highlights two key takeaways from UNCRPD General Comment No. 4

First … “inclusive education involves  a process that contributes to the goal of social inclusion”

Secondly is that inclusive education is much broader in scope. It entails a “process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all children, youth and adults”

“Weak collaboration, cooperation and coordination of stakeholders within the system, across sectors, across government levels and between government and non-state actors can impede implementation of ambitious laws and policies”

“Well-resourced systems pursue a variety of disability inclusive education funding mechanisms”

Inclusive curricula are an exercise in democracy.

A deeper analysis to follow …


Education really matters: Diversity, equity and inclusion – A guest blog by Frank O’Hagan

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Frank O’Hagan

A dedication

Up to the time of her death, a beloved sister of mine was a teacher for more than 40 years, working almost exclusively with pupils from deprived backgrounds or those experiencing social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. When she started her teaching career in the 1960s there was such a shortage of teachers that her very large primary class had to be divided into two groups. On alternative weeks, one group attended a morning session and the other an afternoon session. Both groups were considerably larger than the average primary class of to-day. While bravely facing her imminent death, she still worried about young persons’ future lifestyles and lack of learning opportunities. Sadly, many of her fears have morphed into a reality – continuing austerity, low levels of literacy, feelings of alienation and a lack of employment prospects. As I jot down my views on diversity, equity and inclusion, my gratitude goes to her and the many teachers, educational psychologists and inspectors of education who have contributed to improvements in this field and with whom I have had the privilege to work.

The times are always a-changing

In recent years, although there have been changes for the better, concern about services for vulnerable pupils with diverse needs – who live amidst all sectors of society – continues to be a debated and disquieting issue for parents and educationalists. What is more, in periods of hardships and public cutbacks, this aspect of educational provision for our more disadvantaged students can be seen as an easy target for financial constraint and staff reductions. A range of workable strategies will be necessary to ensure that so many young people do not come to perceive themselves as enduring failures.

Everyday attitudes about the characteristics of young learners alter and transmute, as do conventional stances regarding how their education should be subsidised and managed. These modifications are due to many different factors such as the impact of research projects, developments in teaching methods and advances in society’s views about the rights of children. Outlooks have evolved and perceptions have become more nuanced in a variety of ways. For instance, autism was once considered to be a very rare, one-dimensional and rather inexplicable disability. Nowadays, it is generally recognised as being much more prevalent and to be across an extensive and complex spectrum which comprises intellectual, linguistic, social and behavioural dimensions. Moreover, it is not unusual for pupils who have been assessed as on the autistic continuum to possess high levels of concentration and/or an in-depth comprehension concerning specific topics of interest.  Additional cultural swings have included a greater acknowledgement of the potential of many learners displaying attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to demonstrate positive cognitive features such as creativity.

There are many promising means of developing suitable and empathetic contexts which are truly beneficial for all young people. Through well-tailored, personalised learning programmes, recent findings in educational neuroscience have provided a more hopeful perspective on the capacity of students to adapt to the difficulties which they encounter. Thankfully, there is an evident willingness among professionals to face the very significant obstacles which have to be overcome.

The message is clear that ability is not a fixed entity and that pessimistic attitudes about capabilities regularly need to be confronted. Nonetheless, key questions remain. Has society the will and capacity to address issues relating to diversity, equity and inclusion? How can plans be focussed on success while retaining inbuilt flexibility and identifiable care?  Can educational systems have targeted interventions available to ensure that any apparent ‘breakdowns’ in levels of accomplishments can be quickly ameliorated?

Current challenges to inclusiveness

It is well nigh impossible to be unaware of the presence of diversity in modern society. It manifests itself in statistical surveys and in traditions and pretexts covering age, background, gender, ethnicity, ability, religion and so forth. It is our human melting pot containing both splendour and richness. It also can give rise to apprehension and unease has when individuals or groups are viewed as ‘others’ who are not fully entitled to the rights and privileges enjoyed by ‘in’ groups (a process sometimes referred to as ‘othering’).

Values – such as acceptance, appreciation and kindness – are elements of daily living to be treasured in education and training. Meeting the needs of diverse groups implies interconnectedness and cooperation in establishing universal rights and in building an equitable society. This stance calls for an end to greed, unrestrained capitalism and the continued destruction of Mother Earth. It stipulates that the voices of all students concerning their feelings and self-identified needs should not only be heard but be listened to attentively. Undoubtedly, there exist across our troubled world many obstructions to this vision which require urgent reform. Among an extensive list, depending on customs and place, it may be the disregard of the rights of children who are forced to work rather than be educated, the underachievement of poorer white male adolescents, or vocational openings being denied to students who are physically disabled.

Difficulties encountered, when teaching young persons with varying needs, are too often viewed as arising ‘from within’ or ‘belonging to’ them. From such perspectives, recognised learning problems can be treated as if they are owned by students and their private responsibility. Highly significant environmental factors – prejudices, the lack of adequate nutrition, impoverishment – are overlooked. Consequently, learners are not properly involved in decision-making but are subjected to pronouncements which are hoisted on them by way of a hierarchical system. Parents and guardians, due to their prior experiences, also can feel excluded and may need encouragement to build trust and become actively involved in combatting inequalities.

Skilled educationalists realise that many young people require basic but essential assistance in ‘learning how to learn’ in order to ensure future progress. Staff dedicated to inclusivity will have an expertise in: (1) creating warm and stimulating climates to facilitate headway; (2) establishing purposeful learners’ plans; (3) setting short- and long-term targets; (4) applying procedures relating to advice, guidance and support; and (5) providing motivational feedback to students, parents, guardians and other relevant parties. When acquired, pertinent skills – listening, collaborating, planning, problem-solving and coping mechanisms – can be transferred across curricular areas. It is critical that, for the prerequisites and characteristics of high-quality learning and teaching to be maintained, the capability and proficiency of staff are constantly upgraded through on-going professional development.

Every learner has the right to be included

All pupils deserve to be deemed worthy of making advancements at their own levels of attainment and capacities to learn. Various forms of integration have been implemented, for instance in terms of: locations; social arrangements and communal involvement; and functional and/or instructional settings. Genuine inclusive educational environments will fuse all such approaches into a cohesive and harmonious framework from which no student is excluded. Further, they extend to cover equitable opportunities for vocational training, employment placements and lifelong learning. The overriding philosophy must leave behind a previous ‘What are your problems and weaknesses?’ way of thinking and adopt an outlook which asks ‘In what ways can we assist you to enrich your attributes and extend your talents?’ Staff endorsing an all-encompassing ethos do not see themselves as working in ‘examination factories’. If necessary, they are willing to have fewer or no public accolades as regards their rankings in ‘fake’ national league tables.

When approaches to education are focused on the identified requirements of each learner, travel along productive and rewarding pathways to success is augmented. Along with this methodology, inclusiveness can be a strong catalyst in bringing about camaraderie among students of varying abilities and aptitudes. It follows that, if possible, they should not be cut off and isolated from their peers when undertaking tasks. Learners with diverse needs can expand their knowledge and skills fruitfully in hospitable pedagogic cultures. Authentic collegiate learning provides a sound basis for the cross-fertilisation of views on how they can assimilate information and benefit from new strategies on route to further accomplishments.

For educationalists to play an effective role, they have to challenge the status quo and provide the means of developing competences to overcome social and economic hardship. Programmes which cultivate both worthwhile qualities (for example, confidence, self-esteem, honesty and resilience) and relevant know-how (healthy living, money management, occupational capabilities and so forth) to enhance future chances are of the utmost importance. For these purposes, information and communication technology is helpful in nurturing learning and teaching and in addressing differing needs. At present, computer-based learning, though often very advantageous, is not a panacea. However, further innovations, as the quality of the machine-learner interface improves, augur high prospects.

All forms of educational provision require having well-defined roles, responsibilities and protocols in place for staff who are expected to respond to vulnerable students exhibiting risky behaviours, such as substance abuse, self-harm or noteworthy learning difficulties. Circumstances might necessitate the input of professional agencies which have clear remits to contribute at whole-school, group or individual levels of involvement. Short-term targets may focus on speedy improvements in attaining specific competences, expedited by time-limited, solution-based approaches to resolving pressing concerns. Longer-term objectives could embrace the acquisition of interpersonal skills and a sense of self-assurance. Indeed, for all, it is fitting to move forward well beyond existing hindrances and to encourage positive and rewarding lifestyles.

The dangers of labelling and classification

The drawbacks of labelling can include obscuring learners’ needs, making unwarranted assumptions about their abilities, and inadvertently depriving them of occasions to engage in inclusive practices. Labels also may have a negative impact on the confidence of teachers who might come to the erroneous conclusion that a pupil’s requirements and capacities cannot be accommodated at their school. Improved appliance of assessment methods can detect the co-existence of differing cognitive and behavioural difficulties, all of which require to be addressed within carefully-organised modes of intervention.

Teachers and educational psychologists wish to ascertain strengths and requisites when assessing learners. Unfortunately, by engaging in a classification process they may unwittingly fabricate a rationale which results in pupils being even further removed from mainstream education. For instance, students can suffer a ‘triple whammy’ as when a categorisation unduly influences: (1) low expectations relating to their potential; (2) an assumption that they should not be accepted into a school; and (3) the likelihood of them being permanently excluded.

There has been a widely-held belief that categorisation and labelling are important in providing legal protection, acquiring funding and gaining access to extra assistance from services and educational establishments. Certainly, case studies to back this view can be found. Nonetheless, there are other ways in which these benefits could be obtained if a comprehensive framework of students’ rights was utilised.

Endeavouring to fit an individual’s needs into a single grouping can have deleterious consequences. In general, there has been a distinct move away from the usage of tight categories. However, even looser eclectic descriptions, such as ‘experiencing additional support needs’, carry with them the danger of being interpreted as a rigid classification. A constant emphasis on differences and a disregard of similarities opens the way to shifting from receptive towards restricted mentalities. Vigilance to ensure that a learner is not excluded (or should one say ‘imprisoned’?) via the improper use of a label is paramount. (In any case, do we not all have additional needs, albeit diverse ones at differing levels?)

Assessment which leads to well-directed assistance and incentives

Appropriate appraisal procedures are required to address difficulties and play a crucial role on behalf of learners who are experiencing them. They not only clarify levels of current competences and capabilities but also indicate which forms of involvement and aid are most advantageous. In erstwhile routines, a great deal of credence was given by professionals to formal intelligence tests and standardised results in connection with language and numeracy. More recently, there have been considerable criticism and scepticism concerning the application of such types of normative measures. Very often, as an alternative, the emphasis has been placed firmly on using assessment techniques to help structure and maintain successful tutoring strategies, adaptive behavioural interventions and uplifting learning environments.

There is much to recommend in utilising processes which combine accurate assessments of strengths and requirements alongside the identification of those circumstances best suited to needs. Carefully-staged observations of everyday situations are valuable in avoiding simplistic analyses when attempting to map out how best to intervene. Within therapeutic and educational surroundings, formative assessment can be highly beneficial in terms of promoting both effort and achievements. It enables teachers to highlight what learners have mastered already and to devise future learning pathways.

Skills relating to on-going constructive assessments may appear easy on paper but in practice require substantial expertise. They take account of: devising and setting realistic objectives for all students; sympathetically but rigorously monitoring their progression; providing feedback in an inspirational manner; and collaborating with learners in reviewing their aspirations and in planning forthcoming goals. A concerted engagement following this outline reveals hidden talents, rejects segregation and increases a sense of belonging.


The needs of too many students are frequently missed, their perspectives misunderstood and their voices ignored among the bureaucratic and complex demands of modern education. A cultural shift is fundamental if inclusiveness is to gain traction. The acceptance of diversity and the commitment to ensuring equity for all entail high levels of advocacy, respect, tolerance, compassion and appreciation to permeate throughout learning communities. Unconscious bias has to be recognised and abolished along with negative stereotyping and labelling. Specialised support should be extended and focused within mainstream education, if necessary, using existing special schools and clinics as resource centres.

Governmental and local authority guidelines must wholeheartedly incorporate egalitarian principles and values. If official proposals or prescribed curricular topics prove to be unworkable, the duty of educationalists is to draw attention to deficiencies and to recommend or ‘reclaim’ appropriate courses of study and training programmes for their students. Schedules which include thoughtful and regular monitoring to enhance emotional wellbeing, acknowledge accomplishments and generate further advancement are key ingredients in maintaining successful developments. When effectively delivered, professional collaboration promotes confidence, self-belief and ‘can do’ mindsets regarding endless options for personal, social and intellectual growth.

In summary, proponents of inclusive education aspire to foster welcoming, coherent and vibrant systems which:

  • are open and respectful to all learners without any imagined or created barriers to admission and full participation
  • provide individualised learning pathways which ensure meaningful progress irrespective of identity, attributes and social background
  • encourage students to take responsibility to attain their desired learning outcomes through well-planned and accommodating interchange and negotiation
  • offer a comprehensive and integrated range of counselling, guidance and supportive strategies in conjunction with relevant professional agencies and local facilities
  • help to build and maintain energetic, equitable and flourishing national and community services.


Points for consideration

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal No 4: ‘To ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ (by 2030).

United Nations: Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: General comment No 4, 2016. Article 24: Right to inclusive education: ‘The right to inclusive education encompasses a transformation in culture, policy and practice in all formal and informal educational environments to accommodate the different requirements and identities of individual students, together with a commitment to remove barriers that impede that possibility.’

These are world-wide challenges. How advanced is our nation in reaching these high standards? Perhaps, more basically, are those in positions of power and responsibility fully aware of goals to which they are committed?

Note: For a brief charter focusing on the principles and characteristics of equity and inclusion in education, please use the following link:

Additional note: Frank’s own blog covers social care and education, you are recommended to check it out at this link:

Distorting our teenagers

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Why are there no headlines when behaviour in school improves?

The media give a distorted view of behaviour in schools, says this education writer

It used to be that, each February, media outlets across Scotland would dust down the headlines for one of their few in-depth education stories. Headlines would read something like “Shocking increase in pupil exclusions”, “Pupil violence rising” or “Classroom bad behaviour on the up”.

Such headlines appeared after national exclusion statistics were published and they just about showed a year-on-year increase from their first publication in 2000 (42,340 exclusions) through to 2007 (44,794 exclusions). The publication of these statistics allowed commentators a front-page headline, a solemn editorial and at least three or four weeks of columns and letters to the editor each year. They were good copy.

Autism: ‘Dare to see the reasons behind behaviour’

A mother’s view: ‘Restraint isn’t happening to burly teens’

More on behaviour: Go to our hub for articles on behaviour

Sadly – at least from the point of view of editors, it seems – the figures that were reported each year began to show a decline from the high of 44,794, down to 30,211 in 2011 then 18,361 in 2017. Over a 10-year period, the decline was year on year – so no headlines here and little scope for a sensational take on pupil behaviour.

In 2015, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Developmentreported on other positive aspects of Scottish adolescents. In the report, it noted that the proportion of 15-year-olds who reported drinking alcohol on a weekly basis “dropped sharply, from 43 per cent in 2002 to 14 per cent in 2014”. Nearly a quarter of Scottish 15-year-olds were smokers in 2002 but this had dropped to 14 per cent in 2014, while more than two-thirds of Scottish teenagers thought that their school provided them with advice and support regarding smoking, alcohol consumption and drug use.

And there is other evidence about young people being satisfied with school – high levels of young people like what their schools offers them.

But it isn’t just in schools where the picture has been changing. Referrals to children’s hearings for offences across Scotland showed an even greater decrease, from a peak of 17,361 in 2005-06, to a low of 2,761 in 2015-16. In anyone’s view of statistics, it’s a remarkable decline in misbehaviour, perhaps worth highlighting, if not celebrating.

Serious criminal offending is in decline, too: as a result, one of the secure units that used to hold under-16s has had to be closed and converted into a school. Our young offenders institution at Polmont has also seen a decline in 16- to 18-year-olds placed there. As a comparison, there has been no significant decline in adult criminality – yet.

None of this is to deny that we have some violent young people on our streets or in our schools. There is no minimising the impact of crime or abusive behaviour, wherever it arises.

However, even in the educational media, the broad narrative of behaviour among our teenagers in 21st century Scotland has not been about the declining incidents of poor behaviour, never mind seeking out stories and explanations for such decreases.

Why is it that behaviour is improving? Why is it that teachers’ main concerns are about low-level indiscipline? Why are fewer children facing exclusion? Why are they offending less in their community? Finding answers to these questions would be a more profitable use of commentators’ time.

It may well be, in part, that online gaming has taken over children’s lives, causing them to be behaving badly in online communities rather than on our streets. However, I tend to look for policy answers. First, Scotland took indiscipline seriously from 2000 onwards and invested money in dealing with poor behaviour in classrooms and schools.

Other elements that have affected the statistics could be changes in Curriculum for Excellence, particularly in primary schools, which promoted more active and relevant activities in classroom that could hold boys’ interests. In secondary schools, too, personalised approaches drawing on resources outside the school and in communities, gave some young people a greater sense of worth rather than feeling discarded by the end of S2, as has often been the case.

The more recent developments of trauma-informed practice and an awareness of adverse childhood experiences are again useful in understanding behaviour as “stressed” behaviour rather than “bad”. You may have your own supporting analysis.

But whatever the factors behind it, our national story of better-behaved children doesn’t seem to sell newspapers or entice enough clickbait. Surely it is worth commentating on, reporting about, highlighting and celebrating?


Scotland’s journey to inclusive education – now only paved with “laudable intentions”

IMG_6945And so it began.

Scotland’s Parliament sat again in 1999. The third meeting of the Equal Opportunities Committee (EOC) of the new Scottish Parliament took place on 21st September 1999.  This committee was looking for a way to make its mark and promote equal opportunities at the dawn of the legislature. One of the first major bills for the new Parliament was to be the Education Improvement bill.

The EOC had looked at the Equal Opportunities Commission submission on the bill.  Kate McLean MSP, the convenor of the Parliament’s EOC, noticed the Commission’s submission was incomplete. She thought they missed a few issues and continued “particularly the inclusion of kids with special needs. We may want to look at the way in which we segregate such children in Scotland.”

On 2 November 1999, at the sixth meeting of the Parliament’s EOC, they invited a newly-formed group of parents, the Equity group, to speak about their concerns regarding the education of children with special educational needs.  Equity spoke about their children being placed in special school without their agreement. They stated that they wanted “all children at least to have the entitlement to be educated alongside their non-disabled peers”.

Yes, inclusion of children with special needs in local schools in Scottish education was driven by a group of parents of children with special educational needs – who’d have thought it!

The EOC were interested in this approach for two main reasons from their perspective – it aligned with their desire to place equality at the centre of legislation-making in the new Parliament with a major bill on education in process. Secondly, for the members of the EOC, the inclusion of disabled children in their local school would be an example of mainstreaming which was a feature of equality claims at that time.

Next up on 1 March 2000, the EOC met with the Education Committee about the new education bill and the policy advice.  The EOC had concerns that the policy advice for the bill lacked a human rights perspective. One of the members of the Education Committee, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, agreed.  Shona Robison asked the Scottish Executive to include in the bill

“the right of every child to be educated in a local mainstream school and receive individual support when and where necessary”

Shona Robison reported that the conclusion of the EOC was that, “to maximise the benefit to parents, there should be a right rather than a presumption.  A presumption seemed to have qualifications attached.”

And so it continued.

After the advice from the EOC the discussions and debates now lay with the Education Committee.

May 9th2000, the Education Committee considered amendment 113.  Peter Peacock MSP, the Education Minister, opened the debate with the statement

“Our commitment to developing an inclusive society includes the wish to have all children educated alongside each other. Already, the majority of children with special educational needs are educated in mainstream primary or secondary schools. The amendment will strengthen their right to be educated alongside their peers. It will require local authorities to provide education in mainstream schools for children with special educational needs unless there are good reasons for not doing so.“

All on the Education Committee agreed to amendment 113 which stated that as education authorities were to discharge their duty to provide education in a school, it was to “provide it in a school other than a special school”.  In the end mainstreaming was to proceed in regard to education authorities’ duties rather than the rights of the child.

While the Education Committee all agreed to the amendment in committee, in June 2000 when the bill was being finalised debate about the mainstreaming amendment was re-opened.

On June 7ththe final stages of the bill took place and two amendments were tabled amendment 3 and amendment 26.  Amendment 3 was agreed to and amendment 26 went to a vote. Nicola Sturgeon spoke for the amendment which was to challenge a too narrow view of mainstreaming that could be seen to let educational authorities off the hook.

Amendment 26 was defeated. It was supported by the Tories and SNP with Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney voting against the presumption of mainstreaming as not being broad enough and not fully in the child’s interest.

And so it happened.

Scotland had decided not to implement inclusive education, not to give children and young people the right to a high quality inclusive education but had established the duty on education authorities to provide education but NOT in a special school.  And that duty not to provide education in a special school could have three exceptions – unreasonable cost, the education of others and the views of parents.  Our presumption of mainstreaming was always a limited right, even further limited by the exceptions.

The next debate was in 2017 but now on the back of a growing dissatisfaction from some regarding variable practice regarding education in their local schools.

This time there was a longer motion agreed to, with a couple of amendments from the Tories and Labour to a SNP motion – with the Parliament recognising that “mainstreaming has featured at the heart of its commitment to inclusive education since 2000, welcomes that successive administrations have created and strengthened this commitment”. John Swinney and Nicola sturgeon voted for their motion which had the presumption of mainstreaming at the heart of the commitment to inclusive education. This motion was further amended by the Tories and Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens. This time the SNP Government was defeated as amendments were added about cuts in funding and resources which meant the motion ended with “if mainstreaming in education is to be fully effective, the Scottish government must ensure that schools have the funding and the staff to deliver it.”  While Labour Lib Dems, Greens and tories supported this amended motion, the SNP abstained.

Fourteen months then passed, now a new debate took place on 30th January 2019.  This time in a Tory debate a motion amended by the SNP was agreed to . This “back to the future”  coalition of SNP and Tories who opposed mainstreaming as too narrow in 2000 now considered it too broad in 2019. They also defeated  an amendment mentioning cuts in resources that had the support of Labour and Liberal Democrats.

The motion is 2017 had mainstreaming at the heart of Parliament’s commitment to inclusive education since 2000. Now in 2019 it was “the presumption to mainstream has laudable intentions”, the motion returned to talking about “special educational needs” and that the government will work “to review the presumption to mainstream policy to ensure there can be more uptake of the provision of places in special schools.”

And here we are.

A commitment to not be educated in a special school pushed through on the back of representation by parents to the Equal Opportunities Committee was now to be reviewed. Children’s rights are to be limited further.

In reading over the debates it is clear that Scotland’s MSPs are unaware of global moves to inclusive education. No notice is taken of article 24 from UNCRPD established in 2006 and not one MSP references this important development in regard to rights of disabled children.

Scotland’s claim to be educationally inclusive of disabled children in legislation terms always hung  on the “shoogly peg’ of a duty not to have your education in a special school.  Nothing is mentioned about quality of inclusive education, nothing about systemic change. No recourse to taking note of UNCRPD General Comment no. 4 which provides the legislative and policy framework to deliver on inclusive education.

Finally the new policy of reviewing Section 15 of the 2000 Act in order to increase the numbers of children in special schools will mean Scottish education will now match the four concerns of the UN when concluding their observations on the UK’s austerity policies and their impact on disabled people.  Previously all four concerns only applied to English education.

In 2020 the Global Education Monitoring Report will have its major theme on inclusion in education. While Scotland reviews the laudable intentions of mainstreaming, UNESCO will consider developments across six major areas of inclusive practice in education.

The 2020 GEM Report will examine the role of the different elements of education systems that can support inclusion, including

  • Laws and policies,
  • Governance and finance,
  • Schools,
  • Curricula and learning materials,
  • Teachers, school leaders and education support personnel
  • Communities, parents and students

The Report will consider how these elements contribute to system-level and local inclusion of learners who are vulnerable to exclusion.

In my view it’s not a good look, as we head backwards in time, away from recognising and realising the rights of disabled children; the rest of the world moves ahead. Our MSPS now seem to be content to step back from inclusive society, only paving the journey with laudable intentions.  No matter the good intentions there is no inclusive society without well-funded high quality inclusive education for all.