Another year over, and a new one just begun –- so what should we be doing this year? In 2018, there is the need to close the gap between international visions of inclusive societies and the inclusive practice in Scottish education. The status quo is not an option. In 2016 and 2017, the world moved on, while Scotland did not progress. We can consider five things to consider to secure inclusive education in Scotland.
Number 1 Take account of the UN’s General Comment no. 4
In 2016 the United Nations Committee on the Right of Persons with Disabilities published their General Comment no. 4. It opened with acknowledgement of progress in education for those with disabilities. They said that “recognition of inclusion as the key to achieving the right to education has strengthened over the past 30 years”. They then went on to say
“Many millions of persons with disabilities continue to be denied a right to education, and for many more, education is available only in settings where they are isolated from their peers and receive an inferior quality of provision.”
These challenges described as profound as less so in Scotland in terms of scale. Yet in Scotland the following would be true : –
“A few thousand children and young people with disabilities are denied a right to a high quality full-time education and for thousands more in Scotland, education is only available in settings where they are isolated from their peers and receive an inferior quality of provision.”
According to ENABLE, in Scottish schools the highest levels of dissatisfaction expressed by young people with additional support needs occurs in special schools, roughly about 60% feel they are not well-supported.
In Scotland inclusive education is something about children with support needs being mainstreamed into schools, where as, across the globe, systems are adopting a broad approach. The UN sets out a view that
“Inclusive education is central to achieving high quality education for all learners, including those with disabilities, and for the development of inclusive, peaceful and fair societies. Furthermore, there is a powerful educational, social, and economic case to be made.”
We need to have that kind of vision using the General Comment’s framework to implement it.
Number 2 Address UN concerns about Scottish inclusive education
In September 2017, the UK was criticised for its lack of understanding of “adapting to and applying the human rights model of disability and its evolving concept of disability”. It is not clear that this holds true for Scottish Government. However, concerns and recommendations were made for devolved governments to take forward article 24 – the right of disabled children to inclusive education together with Sustainable Development Goal 4.
The UN recommended that Scotland develops a comprehensive and coordinated legislative and policy framework for inclusive education, and a timeframe to ensure that mainstream schools foster real inclusion of children with disabilities and they should adopt and implement a coherent strategy, financed with concrete timelines and measurable goals, on increasing and improving inclusive education.
The UN went on to say that the strategy must ensure the implementation of laws and regulations improving the extent and quality of inclusive education in classrooms, setup initiatives raising awareness about and support to inclusive education among parents of children with disabilities; and provide sufficient, relevant data on the number of students both in inclusive and segregated education disaggregated by impairment, age, sex and ethnic background, and further provide data on the outcome of the education reflecting the capabilities of the students.
Number 3 Link improvements in inclusive education to SDG 4.5
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are not designed for “third world” or “developing countries” yet are universal and global goals to be realised by all. SDG 4 which was mentioned in the Concluding Observations is the education SDG, It aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030. Surely an achievable target for Scottish education which has many positives in inclusive practices. Target 4.5 is the Equity target and again is within reach of the Scottish education system.
Number 4 Pick up on the trends in Europe
The recent publication in 2017 from the European Parliament “Inclusive education for learners with disabilities” highlights the work of the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education and identifies several trends in inclusive education across Europe. These include trends inclusive education being rooted in the development of personalised learning and flexible teaching, capacity building mechanisms, a preventative approach and effective governance and accountability. The report concludes with comments from the European Agency, the major agency in inclusive education across Europe, and always worth a consideration for its comprehensive guidance and practical advice
“The ultimate vision for inclusive education systems is to ensure that all learners of any age are provided with meaningful, high-quality educational opportunities in their local community, alongside their friends and peers”
Number 5 Evaluate progress using UNESCO up-to-date advice and guidance
In 2017, Florence Mignon at UNESCO working with Mel Ainscow published a guide and helpful resource for countries to help ensuring in inclusion and equity. UNESCO wanted the guide to support government education policy-makers, practitioners and key stakeholders in their efforts to develop and implement inclusive policies, programmes and practices that meet the needs of all learners.
UNESCO were confident this Guide for Ensuring Inclusion and Equity in Education will serve as a resource for countries and will contribute to accelerating efforts worldwide towards inclusive education. At present it is unclear how this resource will be utilised in Scotland. Two points for consideration would be the advice that integrating approaches to inclusion and equity means
- Valuing the presence, participation and achievement of all learners, regardless of their contexts and personal characteristics.
- Recognizing the benefits of student diversity, and how to live with, and learn from, difference.
We cannot learn from difference with segregated special schooling.
The guide provides key features to measure progress in inclusion and equity many of which Scotland is working well towards others where we are a bit further behind. These key features are well worth paying attention to in considering inclusion and equity. An area where we have made little progress is the key feature that states “There is a clear role for special provision, such as special schools and units, in promoting inclusion and equity in education.” The guide explains this new role is for special schools and units to “play a vital role by acting as resource centres for supporting regular schools as they seek to become more inclusive”. Special schools not as placement but as resource. Could it happen in Scotland in 2018 and deliver on the rights of disabled children to an inclusive education with their peers in their local school? It will happen, if we want it!