Given Scotland’s world class performance in inclusive education it seems strange that this status is unheralded, rarely recognised and not celebrated well among the Scottish education community or even within the Education and Skills Committee of the Scottish Parliament. Why wouldn’t we want to be proud of our inclusive practices?
Is it all part of a Scottish psyche? That heady mixture of “Ah kent his faither” and the tall poppy syndrome which is preventing us marking our successes on the global stage? Perhaps it’s linked to modest self-deprecation which in Scotland becomes an overly self-critical process where we are first in the queue to beat ourselves up for failings (just to deny others of the pleasure!)
Anyway, who says we’re inclusive? The OECD report of 2015 Improving Schools in Scotland for one. They stated it as a major strength “Scottish schools are inclusive” – they highlighted three areas. Firstly Scottish schools are socially mixed. The comprehensive ideal is alive and well in Scotland (for the moment) and our politicians might want to build on such a strength rather than undermine it. Apart from Edinburgh, Scotland has a small socially stratified private sector, only 4% of Scottish children attend private schools and their numbers decline. The next inclusive strength according to OECD is our rural schools which out perform schools in urban areas. In the western developed world this is unusual. Finally, they stated that Scotland with 10% minority ethnic children and young people in schools had groups of immigrants making international class progress in inclusive primary and secondary schools. Something we take for granted is children from diverse communities attending the local school. This Is not the case in many European countries. Children with another first language than the dominant culture will attend some form of base or separate school till language levels have improved.
Our immersive inclusive schools supported by support staff (EAL teachers) working in the classroom have ensured that migrant children with additional support for learning needs are just about attaining in line with national averages. Of course the highest attaining groups in Scottish schools are girls from Asian backgrounds (Chinese, Indian and Pakistani), a positive story of intersectionality again unheralded.
Aye OK then, but who else says we’re inclusive? Well, there’s the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education who place us among a group of 16 countries who have less than 2% of their school population in segregated special schooling. We have about 98.5 % of our 670,000 children and young people in inclusive provision. That figure has hardly altered ever since 1980s despite what many people perceive (wrongly) as there being a dogmatic push for inclusion. Our primary and secondary schools have always educated very close to 100% of the school population. This is a good thing.
The successes within our comprehensive schools have occurred over the past 60 years through two key improvement movements. Firstly “downward credentialism” whereby schools and teachers pushed to gain more and more awards for more and more young people in more and more subjects. In 1965, 12% of leavers gained three or more Highers thus qualifying for higher education; by the mid 1980s this figure had risen to 22% and by 2013, 37% of young people gained this level. In 1965 30% of leavers got O-grades (never O-Levels) but 70% left with no qualifications, by 1990 this was reversed with 70% leaving with qualifications and 30% without. This approach from teachers built on and validated an understanding by parents and within communities that education was a social good with value and a way to a better life.
Secondly, our comprehensive schools have been self-improving schools growing and developing from their effectiveness. Effective schools knew what to do to improve and through engagement with school inspectors a process of improvement through self-evaluation developed leading to further virtuous cycles of improvement. Since the 1990s, Scottish education continued to improve and left behind the stratification between senior secondaries and junior high schools. Almost all schools were improving with some making spectacular gains through leadership raising expectations of teachers and perceptions of parents and communities.
These two strands have been added to with aspects of universal design which aim to provide for all children and young people. Curriculum for Excellence with seven broad principles including challenge and enjoyment and its four capacities means all children are included in making progress within its experiences and outcomes. It was developed to be inclusive. At the initial stages writing teams were joined by a number of very effective practitioners from special schools to ensure they were not an add on as previously.
The accreditation system is inclusive. Every young person in Scotland is able to gain awards through National Qualifications for their learning, experiences and achievements. Finally the support processes are universal with the stated aim being “Getting it right for every child.”
By 2000s there were a small minority of schools with important weaknesses, most schools in Scotland being good schools or better with primary schools performing better than secondary and special schools. Boys and girls, diverse ethnicities, differing abilities and children and young people of various social circumstances were being enrolled to attend and sent out each and every morning to the inclusive learning environment of the local school.
Additional Support for Learning and Young Carers: Report to Parliament 2013 Scottish Government
Improving Schools in Scotland OECD (2015)
European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education Country Policy Review and Analysis (UK – Scotland) https://www.european-agency.org/sites/default/files/agency-projects/CPRA/UK-Scotland%20Analysis.pdf
Equalisation and Improvement: Some Effects of Comprehensive Reorganisation in Scotland. Sociology, November, 1987 Andrew Mc Pherson, J. Douglas Willms