Inclusion 2

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

Autism: diversity of a neurotribe


Autism came late to Scottish education. In 1995, no pupils were identified or recorded as having autism in any Scottish school according to the then Scottish Office’s statistical bulletins. In 2015 11, 722 children and young people were identified as having an additional support need arising from autistic spectrum disorder. If you believe that autism is a modern epidemic then that data can look compelling.

In February 2015, President Trump in a meeting with teachers said the following words. These are the very words, they are not fake words. TRUE!

“So what’s going on with autism?” Trump asked. “When you look at the tremendous increase, it’s really such an incredible — it’s really a horrible thing to watch, the tremendous amount of increase. Do you have any idea?”

Well we do.

In the main thanks to two recently published books that together offer the narrative of the history of autism.  Silberman’s Neurotribes and Donovan and Zucker’s A Different Key provide broadly similar accounts of an unrecognized and therefore undiagnosed condition and the struggle that generated for families.  In A Different Key part of the story centres on Donald T (no, not that Donald T!) but Donald Triplett from Forest, Mississippi who was the first person diagnosed with autism by Dr Leo Kanner in 1940s in Baltimore.   While Neurotribes gives an account of autism with a focus on Hans Asperger and his ’little professors” in Vienna in 1940s.   Both books provide the historical perspective not just of autism but in fact the social and political contexts for views on disability and difference across centuries.

“Knowing one person autism, means you know one person with autism” is a useful truism about a neurological condition.   Silberman welcomes the concept of neurodiversity “the notion that conditions like autism, dyslexia and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder should be regarded as naturally occurring cognitive variations with distinctive strengths”. While Donovan and Zucker highlight a broader understanding of diversity as “the impulse to recognize the difference among us as part of us, and to root for their full participation in the world. That project is a work in progress.”

Across both books the stories of individuals with autism and their families are told. Their frustrations and battles with social services, pleas for recognition, journeys down blind alleys, battles and movements to improve services and ultimately inclusive communities to take better account of autism are shared in each account. Silberman, a writer from Wired, writes from a geek perspective and an affinity with Asperger’s “little professors” while Donovan and Zucker considers the supportive community and its response to Donald Triplett. Both cover the heroines of autism such as Temple Grandin, the author and academic and the villains in autism such as Andrew Wakefield who falsified his research on vaccines linking them to autism. (Worryingly, President Trump is seemingly validating Wakefield in similar ways as Nigel Farage.)

The major difference among the two accounts of autism appears in their perspectives on the two earliest explorers of autism: Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger. SIlberman aligns with Asperger and his “little professors” while Donovan and Zucker engage with a deeper view of Kanner’s work.  Donovan and Zucker then discover that Asperger was part of the Nazi response to those with disabilities and he may have been part of the murder of hundreds of disabled children in “specialist children’s wards “ set up by the Nazis. Maybe appropriate that Asperger’s Syndrome is no longer recognsied as a distinct diagnosis within the USA’s Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM).

Were you to read one book it might just be that Donovan and Zucker edges ahead, though reading both is recommended.

In Scotland there is now a national autism strategy and within additional support for learning reports are identified the 1.3% of the school population receiving support in school from a teacher recognized label of autistic spectrum disorder. In Scotland the data also shows that just under 20% of those with additional support based around ASD gain the qualifications for higher education. Those little professors, that neurodiverse tribe are now counted and valued in mainstream Scottish schools. The vast majority of young people with autism are included successfully in mainstream schools and not only that their attainment data scores are improving.

Maybe inclusive supportive communities will continue to grow from inclusive supportive learning environments for all our tribes.


Background reading

Autism’s First Child The Atlantic (October 2010)

Autistic disturbances of affective contact. Kanner L. Nervous Child 2, 217-250 (1943) PDF

In A Different Key: the story of autism Donovan and Zucker Allen and Lane (2016)

NeuroTribes: the legacy of autism Silberman Allen and Unwin 2015

Scottish Office Statistical Bulletin Provision of Education for Pupils with Special Educational Needs (February 1995)

The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin (Brain Science Podcast 98 and 99)