If our Scottish inclusive education system was an English Premier League football team – we’d be Arsenal. Performing mostly well yet never making that final move towards consistently very high performance nationally or internationally.
Inclusive practices in schooling in Scotland are well-embedded in a number of successful ways and built on over the past 50 years. Belief in the value of education, commitment to all, strong social mix, better performing rural schools are all inclusive elements. So where do we lack that consistently high performance?
Firstly we lack clear commitment and leadership to inclusive education as part of human rights and high quality provision. Internationally the world has moved on regarding inclusive education. UNESCO sets 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are now a global agenda. SDG 4 has a clear focus on education “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
This global goal relates to children’s rights to education. The UN’s Convention of the Rights of the Child has Article 19 “Children’s education should develop each child’s personality, talents and abilities to the fullest. It should encourage children to respect others, human rights and their own and other cultures.” While in 2006 the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities set out Article 24 Education: “States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to education. With a view to realising this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity, States Parties shall ensure an inclusive education system at all levels”
So far, so good.
In Scotland in 2000 in the new Parliament drew upon the words of UNCRC to place duties on education authorities “to secure that the education is directed to the development of the personality, talents and mental and physical abilities of the child or young person to their fullest potential”. The Parliament extended children’s rights giving them the right NOT to attend special schools with three exceptions (suitability, other children, cost).
However in 2006 the UK Government claimed an interpretative declaration and reservation to Article 24. It strangely redefined general education with the view ‘the General Education System in the UK includes mainstream and special schools”. In England in 2015 the UK Government stated ”it is committed to inclusive education of children with disabilities and young people and the progressive removal or barriers to learning and participation in mainstream education.”
In Scotland we have never updated inclusive education or moved towards system improvement for inclusive practices. The latest Scottish Government view on this was on the delivery of excellence and equity. This delivery plan went as far to say “We are of course aware that there are wider issues which can affect children’s attainment and equality of outcomes … we are creating the conditions for all children and young people in Scotland to flourish and thrive.” It is not clear that the awareness of the wider issues will lead to action to ensure inclusive education in line with the history of Scotland’s inclusive practices or match the SDG4 goal.
Looking at how to build on inclusive practices requires acknowledgement of Scotland’s successes and strengths and consideration of system and schools failures.
Even within very good schools children encounter failure. In many cases children who encounter failure in the end do so as individuals. (It’s well known that individuals can cause all sorts of problems in complex social systems!) Barriers to learning occur in the learning environment, relationships break down, communication between home and school becomes fractious and support doesn’t get it right for that child.
In this battle to reduce failure, schools and systems need to get their retaliation in early with more personalised learning and support to take account of individual circumstances. Class teachers and support staff need to collaborate and cooperate in classrooms with the specific aim of improving inclusive practices. Special schools have a role to play to build capacity act as resource centres and offer advice and time to support inclusive practice. We are now at the stage of needing to personalized and individualised packages of support drawing the full range of support services. In a later blog I want to look more at even greater success for inclusive education to ensure every child gets the right support in the right time in the right inclusive learning environment.
Delivering Excellence and Equity in Scottish Education: A Delivery Plan for Scotland Scottish Government (2016)
UK Independent Mechanism Submission to inform the CRPD List of Issues on the UK (2017) Equality and Human Right Commission