Diversity: We are all individuals; just like everyone else!

My motivation for writing this blog is to talk about diversity, inclusion and equity with relevance to education in Scotland and a wider world. I aim to unpick and unpack ideas behind the terms and share ways of improving learning, schooling and education.

These days diversity, inclusion and equity are at the centre of, not just educational debate, but, political conflict. These concepts are key to where mature education systems such as Scotland need to take their next steps. This very first blog takes a closer look at diversity. Other upcoming blog topics will be inclusion and equity as well as a history of autism and touching upon intersectionality too.

Diversity is a given. Like everyone, we are all individuals. To take account of diversity within schooling we need to know the background of learners and their differing circumstances.  It’s no longer the case that “we treat everyone the same here”. The OCED report on Scottish education from 2007 nailed it with ”it’s who you are “ that matters in Scottish schools. Identity and diversity are linked.

In 2000, in Glasgow, the city council signed up with the Home Office to accept refuges and asylum seekers. By 2006, there were 2026 families with 1411 school-aged children and young people with 150 of them being unaccompanied children. This was one council.

Working in a Glasgow secondary school at that time we were concerned about changes and impact of a more diverse school population. The school moved from a place where 10 languages were spoken to one with over 30 different languages. Additional support from the city council through a bilingual base aided quick transitions to the classrooms and a more inclusive learning environment. At school level we monitored the data of the changing diversity of the school population. However, there remained concerns about relationships and the attitude among the adolescent boys whether from a Scottish background or within the new Glaswegians from a migrant background.

Two aspects of the life of adolescent boys reduced potential tension greatly and led to positive relationships among groups who may have been prone to conflict in those early days. One, the boys played football with each other. Football talk was also a way to try and break down language barriers.   Secondly some of the footballers shared a cigarette when smoking down the back of the football pitch! While teachers worked together to ensure learning in classroom was sound the young people themselves found ways to develop positive relationships!

We took account of a process of enrolment that was welcoming and informative. Families appreciated being shown round the school, meeting other children from a similar background (enlisted as interpreters for a morning) and getting their kids enrolled in school as soon as possible.

In Scotland we are very successful in enrolling children and young people into school. Such successes are the first port of call for taking account of diversity. Who doesn’t enrol?

Scotland has about 99.9% of children and young people enrolled in schooling from 5 years to 16 years at least. Exceptions at present are home schoolers and some Gypsy and Travellers.   Very high levels of enrolment both signal the value of education and also a level of maturity of the system. Other countries may have low levels of enrolment of girls never mind high levels of absence.    Transparency in data around diversity will show our successes and also highlight where we aren’t winning. The equality characteristics are useful organisers – social background, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and age.

Attendance is the other universal measure. Much more can be done in transparency for attendance and looking at measures across characteristics.

Further transparency can illuminate who is missing or not turning up. Gender, disability and social background whether free school meal entitlement (FSM) or living in an area highlighted by Scottish index of multiple deprivation (SIMD) now need to be considered together to highlight patterns tied into diversity and identity. Usually figures for instance for those excluded from school are broken down to boys and girls, the entitlement to a free school meals (FSM), disabilities and ethnicity. In most countries a priority is to draw together the different datasets to consider diversity in all its interconnected forms. In Scotland, a concerning development is the numbers of children and young people either excluded, on part-time education or transferred to special schools. These numbers would be best illuminated by recourse to analysis of gender (boys), social background (working class), disabilities (with a support need) and, more surprisingly for me, age (9-15 years old). While numbers excluded have creditably declined the numbers subject to unlawful exclusions, part-time education and transferred to special schools may well have increased in recent years.

Governments, education authorities and schools haven’t yet fully caught up with diversity and the disaggregation of data to both monitor and evaluate responses to identity and background. It’s who you are and how you’re counted!

Background reading

Attendance and Absence 2014/15 School Education datasets Scottish Government

Education and Schooling for Asylum-Seeking Refugee Students in Scotland: An Exploratory Study Candappa et al (2007)

Joint inspection of services for children of asylum seekers in the Glasgow City Council area education Scotland June 2007

Quality and Equity of Schooling in Scotland OECD (2007)

Author: dknwatt

Up to recently, I was the Senior Education Officer for Inclusion and Equalities with Education Scotland, Scotland's education improvement agency. Throughout my career, I worked in schools, education authorities and nationally to promote inclusion and reduce barriers to learning for differing groups. Latterly, I was Scotland's Representative Board member with the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education. I worked as HM Inspector from 2002. As well as leading work in inspecting special schools and units, autism and tackling sectarianism I have presented on diversity, inclusion and equity across Scotland, Europe and in Pakistan. I enjoy coffee, football, learning and family holidays.

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