“Grave and systemic”… “deep concerns”… “most challenging”
Last week the performance of the UK government and the jurisdictions of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales were part of a report from the United Nation’s Committee on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD). “Grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights” were raised as part of “deep concerns” by the UN’s UK Rapporteur who described the engagement with the UK Government as “the most challenging exercise in the history of the Committee.” So far, so bad!
In terms of the right to inclusive education the world has moved on. In the eyes of the UN, within Scotland and the UK a change in approach was needed “without further delay”. From the UN’s perspective the education jurisdictions within the UK have failed to understand or implement the human rights model of disability. For some children, education is available only in settings where they are isolated from their peers and receive an inferior quality of provision. The Governments have avoided their obligation to move towards full realisation of article 24 of UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. In their General Comment No.4 in 2026, the UNCRPD stated, “This is not compatible with sustaining two systems of education: mainstream and special/segregated education systems.”
In August 2017, the Committee flagged up four concerns with the position across the UK education systems. These were
- persistence of segregated education through special schools
- increasing numbers of children and young people with disabilities in segregated education
- an education system not geared to high-quality inclusive education
- education and training of teachers does not reflect the needs of inclusive education
Not all of these are “bang-on” criticisms of Scottish education yet some of the fundamental concerns remain unanswered at the present time.
Concern the first is indeed relevant, there continues to persist segregated education through special schools. However, in the decade since UNCRPD the numbers of special schools under local authority control have declined. In 2006, there were 190 while by 2016 there were now 141. Though, to counter that, there has been an increase in independent special schools. Of course this is not consistent across 32 education authorities as at least seven authorities have no segregated education through special schools.
Concern the second is not relevant for Scotland. Yay! In Scotland numbers of children and young people in special schools were not increasing over the decade, they were very stable until last year. In 2006, 6975 children and young people were enrolled in segregated education by special schools and by 2016 this number had decreased to 6735.
Third concern is on balance an accurate one. The system is not geared to respond to the requirements for high-quality inclusive education. Our laws include exceptions whereby inclusive education can be neglected. The UN states that we need not exceptions to mainstreaming but laws that ensure “the implementation of laws, decrees, and regulations improving the extent and quality of inclusive education across the system.“ This is the clearest example of the world moving on. In 2000 Scotland was at the forefront with a mainstreaming push but it has not led to ending segregated education by special schools. Across Europe new roles for special schools are being developed and implemented in support of inclusive education. Too few such schools in Scotland take on such roles as resource centres or support services in support of inclusive education in local schools. Of course there are large numbers of local schools across Scotland offering models of good practice in inclusive education based on a human rights approach tackling the challenges described by the UN.
Fourth concern plays as accurate too for Scotland, particularly in terms of ongoing education of teachers. Across Scottish Government, Education Scotland, education authorities more can continue to be done to support and assert children’s rights to inclusive education and further reduce any need for segregated education by special schools.
Dear reader, you will struggle to find mention of UNCRPD and its assertions on the right to inclusive education, not only across Scottish education but Scottish public policy. Organisations such as diverse as Equality and Human Rights Committee, the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Enable, Govan Law Centre do not seem to value, recognise or concern themselves with a disabled child’s right to inclusive education as set out by the United Nations. None of them share the concerns of the United Nations regarding inclusive education in the Scotland.
Globally, now, UNESCO provides guidance on inclusion and equity and Europe forges ahead in developing inclusive education with the work of the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education. Scotland is now falling behind in regard to inclusive education. This blog focused on the committee’s concerns. The next blog concerns its recommendations and seeks to apply them to the Scottish context.
United Nations Committee on the Rights of Disabled People General Comment No. 4 (2014)
UNESCO Sustainable Development Goal 4 targets 4.5 and 4.8