5 things to consider for inclusive education in 2018

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

Pedagogy of the Diverse

Change the system

Children come to our schooling systems with their differences. We know this. We still don’t fully know how to handle their differences. We still expect children and young people to fit the system. Our education systems are still too heavily focussed on schooling rather than learning. Everyone can learn, not everyone gets schooled. Inclusive learning would mean a locally based learning environment, lets call it a school, being open to all, designed to meet the needs of whoever walks or wheels up to the door.

The above graphic isn’t even where we are in Scotland in terms of a debate on inclusive education. The squares at the school door are still deciding that different blobs need to change in order to pass through the door to schooling.

Schooling is still too often about excluding, separating and segregating and within schools about sorting out and streaming. JK Rowling had it best with her sorting hat

“For I’m the Hogwarts sorting Hat

And I can cap them all.

There’s nothing hidden in your head

The Sorting Hat can’t see

So try me on and I will tell you

Where you ought to be.”

Too many schools and starting from before 5 years of age, sort out the children into high and low ability top and bottom sets and academic and non-academic learners. In Scotland the debate is moving away from a national education system marked out by being universal, comprehensive and accessible by all – an inclusive system – towards one reinforcing segregated, autonomous and selection processes.

Yet across the world now agencies and movements of the oppressed are making great steps with progressive inclusion. From the United Nations and its international agencies, the European Commission backed by the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education towards movements of the marginalised are acclaiming change.

In 2015 in Europe groups of disabled young people came together to take action. They viewed inclusive education as a human rights issue and placed key concepts, such as normality, tolerance, respect and citizenship, at the centre of their discussions. Their simple five point manifesto:

  1. Everything about us, with us
  2. Barrier-free schools
  3. Breaking down stereotypes
  4. Diversity is the mix, inclusion is what makes the mix work
  5. Becoming full citizens

To match these points we need to consider a new pedagogy, a pedagogy of the diverse. Such an approach to a range of teaching and learning methods would break down the need for stratification and segregation based on illogical and outmoded notions of “age, aptitude and ability” but take account of what learners bring to school their experiences and background – social class, gender, religion and belief, ethnic minority, disability, sexual orientation, age, pregnancy.   Such an approach has more of the 21st century about it and openly takes account of background rather than have “hidden values” that lead to support for schooling processes that have no evidence of positive outcomes such as setting. It would build in flexibility through principles already in place such as relevance and personalising learning and support rather than sorting.

It would mean schools would be responsive and charged with meeting the needs each individual and operate through designing personalised pathways through the schooling process on one site in one school – an inclusive learning environment, comprehensive and meeting the needs of all. There would be sectoral changes such as an end to selective schooling, fee-paying schooling and segregated schooling and investment in inclusion that offers pastoral support, learning support and personal support for inclusive leanring. Simples really!


Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone JK Rowling 1997

‘Inclusive Education–Take Action!’ November 2015




Faster than the speed of words

Equality equity

Visuals travel faster than the speed of words and even without a thousand words, images show their worth in communicating ideas.

The above image of the young people peering over fences at a baseball game has been given great a currency over the past few years.

You can read about how it came about in December 2012 by Craig Froehle. He originally created the  graphic to make the point between equality of opportunity and equality in outcomes in a debate with a conservative during USA 2012 election.   He modestly describes his creative process as:

“So, I grabbed a public photo of Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, a stock photo of a crate, clip art of a fence, and then spent a half-hour or so in Powerpoint concocting an image”

His graphic must have been used in thousands of presentations as a simple and effective way to push the debate in politics or social services or education towards fairness rather than opportunity.

In the first panel of the graphic all the young people have the opportunity to look at the ball game but not everyone has a successful outcome. The second panel then displays a fairer outcome. Someone once said something about   “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” and the image has something of that.

Of course I have to admit I was one of those young people outside the fence in my youth. On occasion my brothers trying to see the game at a junior football ground in the West of Scotland. We never achieved the equitable outcome because usually we found a way to sneak in by climbing over the fence.

There is another website (Cultural Organizing) that offers a critique of the graphic in its various forms describing it as perfect example of deficit thinking. (By the way they describe the removing of the fence to get in for free as a “creative and subversive” response – we called it duking in).

A final website lets you design your own third and even fourth panel.   It again looks at some different versions and lets you design a fourth box (the 4th box) for the cartoon.

Then there is the short youtube version for younger children called Fairness set away from sports fields. Again three children this time picking apples from a tree and sharing boxes to stand on. There may well be a feature film coming some time soon.

In education terms many schools and teachers are keen to assert that they treat everyone the same. People on the first box never readily give up that privilege they feel they deserve with that resource. Whether you view that first box as private schooling, the over emphasis and weighting towards gaining entry to University and streamed or set classes. All of those “crates” are supports that reinforce inequity and not readily yielded.

More debate and discussion about equitable outcomes needs to consider the second panel and celebrate ways that give the support to those that need it, children and young people from working class backgrounds, care experienced young people and those with disabilities. It also requires decisions from the first panel about which “crates” need reallocated.

Version 3 To each according to their needs   4 panel 7  

Disability Rights are Human Rights

human rights

“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

  1. persistence of segregated education through special schools
  2. increasing numbers of children and young people with disabilities in segregated education
  3. an education system not geared to high-quality inclusive education
  4. 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



Finding the joy in work

isolation and detention

Part of the luxury of being retired from full-time employment is gazing at job vacancies in a very disinterested fashion. “Can’t see me doing that or that or even that” is the general response whenever any jobs and all other modes of gainful employment appear before my eyes.  However, the job above came at me through my twitter feed and piqued my interest.  What a role! Director of Isolations and Detentions: I mean, how much fun is that job going to be?  If I were to do it, definitely, it would be important to ensure there was high quality isolation and detention.

In Scotland, so far we have moved away from such approaches. We have recognised that building relationships is a more successful way to sustain those positive learning environments or as many use to call them – schools. As a result our young people do demonstrate those four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence. No more so than when they participated in the referendum about the future of Scotland with the extended franchise to 16 and 17 year olds.   We have moved on.

We stopped belting children and young people in schools in 1982. To be fully accurate we stopped belting working class boys who were the primary (and secondary) recipients of this reminder for good behaviour.  Identity matters not just in attainment gaps.  The survey below was conducted in a survey of school leavers in 1977. It is quite marked who was being belted.

Tell Them From MeSince then we have transformed our schools from punishment regimes to more supportive, inclusive spaces where positive relationships are at the heart of practice. Accompanying this transition has been a shift in the well being of young people and following that improvement their behaviour and relationships with others.

Such improvement has been achieved through better understanding of the pressures on teenagers, the developments in neuroscience and adolescents and progress with the climate and relationships in schools as well as nurturing ethos and settings in schools.

The OECD (2015) noted the positive attitudes towards schools from young people in Scotland.

Positive attitudes and connections

Scottish students hold relatively positive attitudes towards schools and what it has given them compared with their peers across OECD countries as a whole. Around 8 out of 10 students said they did not agree that school had done little to prepare them for life (well above the OECD average), and more than 9 in 10 did not agree that school had been a waste of time.

At least three in four Scottish students surveyed answered positively when asked whether they get along with their teachers, whether teachers take students seriously, and whether teachers are a source of support. More held positive perceptions of teacher-student relationships in 2012 than in 2003.

Young people in Scotland report high life satisfaction. Most Scottish adolescents (87%) said that they were highly satisfied with their lives, this being largely stable since 2002.”

More than that though the OECD recognised more positive behaviour among young people in Scotland

“School and risk behaviour improving in Scotland

The proportion of 15-year-olds who reported drinking alcohol on a weekly basis dropped sharply from 43% in 2002 to 14% in 2014. Nearly a quarter of Scottish 15-year- olds were smokers in 2002 but this had dropped to 14% in 2014. Over two-thirds of Scottish teenagers judge that their school provides them with advice and support regarding smoking, alcohol consumption and drug use.

Staff assessments of behaviour in Scottish schools have been high since the mid- 2000s; with low-level and serious disruptive behaviour both considered to be in decline. Even so, unauthorised absenteeism is above the OECD average in Scotland.”

As Scotland has moved away from punishment regimes in schools, the number of children and young people subject to exclusion from learning has significantly decreased. In 2006/07 there were 44,794 exclusions and by 2014/15 this had decreased to 18,430, a fall of about 60%.   It’s unlikely to be a story appearing soon in a mass media outlet about working class boys no longer needing to be hit neither will we hear too often that our young people are more responsible citizens than adults, more confident individuals, better at effectively contributing and learning more successfully in so many ways than the adults who lecture them.

There is evidence of a better behaved generation than ever. The Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice in their “Youth Justice in Scotland” notes the significant decline in youth crime.

“Since 2006-07 there have been falls in those convicted of an offence in court across all age groups, although the change is more marked in the youth population (under 18) compared to the adult population (18 and over), as shown in Figures 7 and 8 (Scottish Government, 2013a). In addition, it is notable that, in the same time period, the number of under 16s with a charge proven in court has fallen by almost three-quarters (74%), which meant that there were only 34 young people aged under 16 who were prosecuted and convicted by a court in 2012/13.”

It is further noted that

“… almost 90% of young people in custody in 2013 reported that they had been excluded from school. One 17-year-old young man in Polmont said ‘People like us get excluded and end up in Polmont’.“

Rather than isolating and detaining our kids we need to engage better with them, have higher expectations of their behaviour and learning while respecting their rights and supporting them to exercise their rights as responsible citizens. More innovation in our curriculum and wider work across councils to provide more tailored pathways to realise potential rather than be detained and stare at a wall all day by yourself.

Incidentally as we, in Scottish education, move to academy trust style of clusters of schools outwith local council control, there would be nothing to stop such posts appearing in Scotland sometime soon. Again, I’m not interested.

Some references

Educational exclusion and inclusion – Common themes from the Improving Life Chances Group http://www.cycj.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Education-Exclusion-and-Inclusion-1.pdf

Exclusions dataset 2014/15



Out of site, out of mind?


Tell Them from Me, Gow and McPherson Aberdeen university Press (1980)

Youth Justice in Scotland: Fixed in the past or fit for the future? Lightowler et al, CYCJ, 2014






The support saga: a data story

Once upon a time there were a group of wise people who thought all was not well in the world of education.   One day, in 1978, they came together and said some of our children in our schools will require some support at some time. They said that every fifth child in a village, town or city would require support.

A long, long time after the wise people had reported all that they found, a committee of the parliament sat in Edinburgh town. They were worried about an exponential growth in the numbers of boys and girls throughout all the land needing additional support. So they listened to some people and then they listened to some more. But they never thought to look back at the words of the group of wise people from the century before.   For there had been no epidemic of support needs in recent years. All across the hills and lochs of the country, all that had happened was teachers got better at completing a census about support.

In the land of the Scots every year before the leaves shaded from green to brown, the leader in each and every school was commanded to fill out the census of the ScotXed.   Some of the leaders did not like to do this at all, so they got some of their helpers to fill out every box as ordered by the ScotXeders. The saga of the census which took place annually, each and every year told the story who got what in support for learning. The numbers told a new story, a happy one.

The story of the numbers was this: each August about 53,000 children start school and then by the end of June, roughly 53,000 will leave school education. Overall, there will be about 679,000 in Scottish schools. Roundabout the year 2011, teachers were asked to record more information about who got what in terms of additional support and to do that for the next five years.

For half a decade, the teachers in schools got better and better at counting the children with support needs and reached the 1 in 5 level that the wise people had said way back in the last century.

Over the 5 year period of reporting, schools identified more and more of the children and young people getting more and more support. In 2011 this number was 98,523 and by 2015 the count was now 153,190 children and young people across Scotland.   It was only that people (teachers people) had become more sensitive to who needed support and year on year for five years they got better at reporting and recording the information. This was indeed a good thing.

It wasn’t just a matter of that one number, there were lots of numbers. These numbers told a number of different tales in the saga of support.

They told a story of more and more plans for the children in the schools. Over the years of better counting, the total number of plans increased from 49,787 in 2011 to 60,119 plans in 2015. More plans must be a good thing, surely! But it wasn’t just the number of plans, there had been a big change in the types of plans. Down went the number of plans called IEPs, down went plans called CSPs and up and up went the number called child’s plans.  Not many people knew this.

The numbers of IEPs reported decreased from 42,819 in 2011 to 37,168 in 2015. In this time the number of co-ordinated support plans decreased from 3,617 to 2,716.

While somewhat remarkably the number of child’s plans grew, grew, and grew from 3,351 to 20,235. This may well be a very good thing as an IEP usually concerns itself with education while a plan of the child is a more holistic document.

“Plans! Plans! What good are plans?” I hear you say. Plans don’t amount to much unless there are people there in place to not only carry them out but to make sure its good quality support.

In terms of the types of support given to children needing support there were five years of numbers too.

The identified number of children in schools receiving support from specialist learning support teachers had risen from 50,789 in 2011 to 85,471 in 2015. Numbers receiving support from other support for learning staff such as support assistants rose from 36,461 to 71,693.

The reported numbers weren’t just to do with staff in education though, those more holistic plans were supported by other public services. Like Social Work services who increased their level of support from 8,282 to supporting 17,554 children while health service support rises from 14,044 to 30,929 children and young people.

And then it wasn’t just public sector, the third sector were helping too. Through the voluntary sector the recorded numbers receiving support have risen from 1,116 children and young people to 2,526 being supported.

There is even a mysterious “other” form of support that nobody knows what it is but we do know that it has increased from 8,110 in 2011 to 28,676 in 2015. Or so the teachers in each and every school in Scotland are telling us.

The number story wasn’t just being told by teachers. Enquire is the independent advisory service for parents, children and young people with about additional support. They record the numbers of enquiries linked to additional support need issues, many of these are likely to be complaints. In 2011, Enquire received 1,264 enquiries related to additional support. In 2014-15, Enquire received 1,444 enquiries relating to additional support for learning. An increase of 14%. While numbers identified and recorded as receiving support grew from 98, 0000 to 150,000, the number of enquiries increased by 14%.

You might wonder, given better recording of numbers, more and more provision being identified what has happened with numbers using advocacy, mediation, adjudication or the Tribunal? Exponential increase perhaps? Even at the sharp end when parents are fighting for their rights and what they see as best for their children the numbers tell a fuller story.

In 2011, 35 requests were made for independent advocacy, 87 cases using mediation, 18 referrals to the independent adjudication service, 13 Section 70 complaints to Scottish Ministers and 73 referrals to the Tribunal.   In 2015, 75 requests were made for independent advocacy, 156 cases using mediation, 4 referrals to the independent adjudication service, 2 Section 70 complaints to Scottish Ministers and 78 referrals to the Tribunal.

In the five years of annual reporting the number of uses of mediation are as follows

2011 87 cases, in 2012 73 cases, 2013 86 cases, in 2014 134 cases and by 2015 156 cases. This again is a good thing.

There are more numbers that tell further parts of the story – the money numbers! Education budgets like other public sector services have been reduced since 2008. There is a further discussion and debate about those numbers.

This blog has attempted to give a fuller story of what’s happening in our schools as teachers get better at recording information about they do in the schools to support children and young people with additional support needs. In my view the range and quality of work in support in our schools is under recognised and undervalued. If we are truly seeking to improve equity and excellence then the quality of support services are a key resource to support learning and increase achievement.

Will they live happily ever after?

No wonder Scottish education’s going backward

The recent publication of the Education and Skills committee report marks another interesting step backwards for Scottish education. Offering very much a mixed package it supported mainstreaming but had concerns about inclusion. It questioned the level of resources for additional support needs but was worried about teachers diverting time to children with additional support needs in their class. It was concerned about impact on attainment yet took no account of how inclusive education leads to better achievement of the four capacities. Throughout it assumed that special schools are a major part of the answer yet ignored the voices of young people in special schools who feel they aren’t supported.

In terms of the big picture it lacked any great support for the aspiration of an inclusive Scotland where discrimination is challenged and the segregation of disabled children and people from the mainstream of society is ended.

It was a mixed report. In part it was mixed as it relied on anecdote. For instance the anonymous contributor from Dalkeith campus who suggested there was an “exponential’ rise in additional support needs. The Committee and the anonymous contributor seemed unaware that the Warnock Report from 1978 (so last century I know) said

we recommend that the planning of services for children and young people should be based on the assumption that about one in six children at any time and up to one in five children at some time during their school career will require some form of special educational provision.”

In Scotland in 1994 the EPSEN document from HMI said much the same. In its introduction it stated,

“A proportion of pupils, estimated at around 20%, have learning difficulties which are more intractable, but which respond to measures, such as through the assistance of a learning support specialist and/or some curricular adaptations.”

While the Education and Skills Committee (2017) has it as

“The context for the committee’s analysis of education for children with additional support needs in this report is the “exponential” increase in the recorded incidence of children with additional support needs in recent years to a level beyond many people’s expectations”.

In 1978, it was assumed about an estimated 20% of kids would have support needs, in 1994 in Scotland HMI estimated the proportion as 20% and by 2016 according to the Report to Parliament this has increased (exponentially) to an identified 22.5%.

The Committee should have been asking have our educational services been planned to take account of 22.5% of children having additional support needs. Has this significant improvement in the identification, recording and reporting on children with additional support needs by teachers in every school in Scotland and across all education authorities led to better provision and outcomes?

Relying on anecdote and gathering people’s is one way to gain a view of public services, collating and analysing evidence is another. Scottish education has some very good sources of data and information which would assist any Parliamentary Committee. The source in this instance is called the Annual Report to Parliament on Additional Support for Learning.   In terms of outcomes it provides a picture of improving outcomes but also clear evidence of gaps across the range and types of additional support needs. The annual reports are not referenced in the bibliography. If referenced, they would have found the fact that children with social emotional and behavioural needs attain 20% of the national average a clear attainment gap that should be a national cause for concern.

The Committee might have wanted to look at the attainment of children with additional support needs arising from English as an Additional Language. The annual reports not only indicate that schools and education authorities are getting better at identifying such children and young people but also that they are attaining in line with national averages. In 2015 the OECD commended Scottish education saying “Scottish schools are inclusive” – they highlighted three measures of inclusion – the attainment of migrant children, the social mix of Scottish comprehensive and the performance of rural school being better than urban schools. It’s disappointing that the Committee fails to acknowledge when schools and education authorities in Scotland perform at world-class levels. Just because socially mixed inclusive schools doesn’t fit some people’s dogma we have to continue to knock our schools and authorities on their journey towards an inclusive Scotland.

One final point about evidence gathering, observation is another good source of evidence in addition to people’s views. It is another shame that Committee members visited Dalkeith Community campus, visited the two secondary schools yet didn’t manage to get along to the third school on the Campus – the special school, Satlersgate School. They could have been asking how well the shared campus works to support children’s education and their support needs.

As well as neglecting to visit special schools, the voice of children from special school was neglected. “Included in the Main” a report from Enable similarly ignored their views. The “Included in the Main” report asked young people with additional support needs and their satisfaction with their educational setting

“Only one-third (33%) of young people in mainstream school felt they were getting the right support in school. This is compared with two-thirds (66.67%) for young people who attend mainstream with an ASN base. Interestingly only just over one-third (37.5%) of young people who attend a special school said they felt they were getting the right support at school.

A similar trend was demonstrated throughout various responses. 42% of children in solely mainstream provision thought they were doing well in school. Two-thirds (66.67%) of children who attend mainstream with an ASN base felt they were doing well. Interestingly only 44% of those in Special School felt the same.”

Perhaps that report could have been re-titled “Interestingly, Excluded in the Special”? 😉

There remains a gap between policy aspiration and practice as experienced by children and families of those with additional support needs. The words of parents in the Committee’s report are extremely concerning such as children receiving no education or excluded to part-time timetables (which happens in special schools too). Scotland would have been better served by identifying the gaps in outcomes using data from the annual report to Parliament, seeking greater collaboration across support to better meet the needs of all and reconfiguring the role of special schools towards preventing failure in mainstream as part of new ways to help and assist inclusive education.


Education and Skills Committee report 2017


Warnock Report 1978


Effective Provision for SEN 1994 excerpts



Improving Schools in Scotland (OECD) 2015


Supporting Children’s Learning: Implementation of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004  (2016)







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) http://brainsciencepodcast.com/bsp/2013/the-autistic-brain-by-temple-grandin-bsp-98


Inclusion (Part 1) How good are our inclusive practices?

Given Scotland’s world class performance in inclusive education it seems strange that this status is unheralded, rarely recognised and not celebrated well among the Scottish education community or even within the Education and Skills Committee of the Scottish Parliament. Why wouldn’t we want to be proud of our inclusive practices?

Is it all part of a Scottish psyche? That heady mixture of “Ah kent his faither” and the tall poppy syndrome which is preventing us marking our successes on the global stage? Perhaps it’s linked to modest self-deprecation which in Scotland becomes an overly self-critical process where we are first in the queue to beat ourselves up for failings (just to deny others of the pleasure!)

Anyway, who says we’re inclusive? The OECD report of 2015 Improving Schools in Scotland for one. They stated it as a major strength “Scottish schools are inclusive” – they highlighted three areas. Firstly Scottish schools are socially mixed. The comprehensive ideal is alive and well in Scotland (for the moment) and our politicians might want to build on such a strength rather than undermine it. Apart from Edinburgh, Scotland has a small socially stratified private sector, only 4% of Scottish children attend private schools and their numbers decline. The next inclusive strength according to OECD is our rural schools which out perform schools in urban areas. In the western developed world this is unusual. Finally, they stated that Scotland with 10% minority ethnic children and young people in schools had groups of immigrants making international class progress in inclusive primary and secondary schools. Something we take for granted is children from diverse communities attending the local school. This Is not the case in many European countries. Children with another first language than the dominant culture will attend some form of base or separate school till language levels have improved.

Our immersive inclusive schools supported by support staff (EAL teachers) working in the classroom have ensured that migrant children with additional support for learning needs are just about attaining in line with national averages. Of course the highest attaining groups in Scottish schools are girls from Asian backgrounds (Chinese, Indian and Pakistani), a positive story of intersectionality again unheralded.

Aye OK then, but who else says we’re inclusive? Well, there’s the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education who place us among a group of 16 countries who have less than 2% of their school population in segregated special schooling. We have about 98.5 % of our 670,000 children and young people in inclusive provision. That figure has hardly altered ever since 1980s despite what many people perceive (wrongly) as there being a dogmatic push for inclusion. Our primary and secondary schools have always educated very close to 100% of the school population. This is a good thing.

The successes within our comprehensive schools have occurred over the past 60 years through two key improvement movements. Firstly “downward credentialism” whereby schools and teachers pushed to gain more and more awards for more and more young people in more and more subjects. In 1965, 12% of leavers gained three or more Highers thus qualifying for higher education; by the mid 1980s this figure had risen to 22% and by 2013, 37% of young people gained this level.  In 1965 30% of leavers got O-grades (never O-Levels) but 70% left with no qualifications, by 1990 this was reversed with 70% leaving with qualifications and 30% without. This approach from teachers built on and validated an understanding by parents and within communities that education was a social good with value and a way to a better life.

Secondly, our comprehensive schools have been self-improving schools growing and developing from their effectiveness. Effective schools knew what to do to improve and through engagement with school inspectors a process of improvement through self-evaluation developed leading to further virtuous cycles of improvement.   Since the 1990s, Scottish education continued to improve and left behind the stratification between senior secondaries and junior high schools. Almost all schools were improving with some making spectacular gains through leadership raising expectations of teachers and perceptions of parents and communities.

These two strands have been added to with aspects of universal design which aim to provide for all children and young people. Curriculum for Excellence with seven broad principles including challenge and enjoyment and its four capacities means all children are included in making progress within its experiences and outcomes. It was developed to be inclusive. At the initial stages writing teams were joined by a number of very effective practitioners from special schools to ensure they were not an add on as previously.

The accreditation system is inclusive. Every young person in Scotland is able to gain awards through National Qualifications for their learning, experiences and achievements. Finally the support processes are universal with the stated aim being “Getting it right for every child.”

By 2000s there were a small minority of schools with important weaknesses, most schools in Scotland being good schools or better with primary schools performing better than secondary and special schools. Boys and girls, diverse ethnicities, differing abilities and children and young people of various social circumstances were being enrolled to attend and sent out each and every morning to the inclusive learning environment of the local school.

Background reading

Additional Support for Learning and Young Carers: Report to Parliament 2013 Scottish Government

Improving Schools in Scotland OECD (2015)

European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education Country Policy Review and Analysis (UK – Scotland) https://www.european-agency.org/sites/default/files/agency-projects/CPRA/UK-Scotland%20Analysis.pdf

Equalisation and Improvement: Some Effects of Comprehensive Reorganisation in Scotland. Sociology, November, 1987 Andrew Mc Pherson, J. Douglas Willms