Education really matters: Diversity, equity and inclusion – A guest blog by Frank O’Hagan

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The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal No 4: ‘To ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’(by 2030).

United Nations: Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: General comment No 4, 2016. Article 24: Right to inclusive education: ‘The right to inclusive education encompasses a transformation in culture, policy and practice in all formal and informal educational environments to accommodate the different requirements and identities of individual students, together with a commitment to remove barriers that impede that possibility.’

These are world-wide challenges. How advanced is Scotland in reaching these high standards?

(Dr Frank O’Hagan previously was the Adviser of Studies to Bachelor of Education students at the University of Strathclyde. Later, he was a member of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education. Frank writes for Inclusive Practices in a personal capacity)

A dedication

Up to the time of her death, a beloved sister of mine was a teacher for more than 40 years, working almost exclusively with pupils from deprived backgrounds or those experiencing social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. When she started her teaching career in the 1960s, there was such a shortage of teachers that her very large primary class had to be divided into two groups. On alternative weeks, one group attended a morning session and the other an afternoon session. Both groups were considerably larger than the average primary class of to-day. While bravely facing her imminent death, she still worried about the lack of learning opportunities for numerous young people and about their future opportunities. Sadly, many of her fears have morphed into a reality – continuing austerity, low levels of literacy, feelings of alienation and a lack of employment prospects. As I jot down my views on diversity, equity and inclusion, my gratitude goes to her and the many teachers, educational psychologists and inspectors of education who have contributed to improvements in this field and with whom I have had the privilege to work.

 The times are always a-changing

In recent years, although there have been changes for the better, concern about services for vulnerable pupils with diverse needs – who live across all sectors of society – continues to be a debated and disquieting issue among many parents and educationalists. What is more, in times of hardships and public cutbacks, this aspect of educational provision for our more disadvantaged children and young people can be seen as an easy target for financial constraint and staff reductions. A range of workable strategies are necessary to be employed to ensure that so many young persons do not come to perceive themselves as enduring failures.

Everyday attitudes about the characteristics of young learners alter and develop over time, as do conventional stances regarding how their educational provision should be managed. These modifications are due to many different factors such as the impact of research projects, developments in teaching methods and advances with regard to society’s views about the rights of children. Outlooks have evolved and perceptions become more nuanced in various ways. For instance, autism was once regarded as a very rare, one-dimensional and rather inexplicable disability. Nowadays, it is generally recognised as being much more prevalent and to be present across an extensive and complex spectrum disorder which includes intellectual, linguistic, social and behavioural dimensions. Other examples are improvements in assisting pupils displaying attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Asperger Syndrome, with potential positive cognitive features such as creativity being acknowledged in relation to the former and high concentration and interest in a specific topic with the latter.

There are many possible means of developing educational systems which are truly beneficial for allyoung people and there is an evident willingness among professionals to face the very significant obstacles which have to be overcome. Additionally, recent progress in educational neuroscience has provided a more hopeful perspective on the capacity of learners to adapt to the difficulties which they encounter through well-tailored personalised learning programmes. The message is clear that ability is not a fixed entity and that pessimistic attitudes about capabilities often need to be confronted. Nonetheless, key questions remain. Has society the will and capacity to address issues relating to diversity, equity and inclusion? How can plans be focussed on success and achievements while retaining inbuilt flexibility and personal care?  Can educational systems have well-targeted interventions in place to ensure that any apparent ‘breakdowns’ in students’ achievements can be quickly ameliorated?

Current challenges to inclusiveness

It is well nigh impossible to be unaware of the presence of diversity in modern society. It manifests itself through statistical surveys, traditions and pretexts covering age, background, gender, ethnicity, talents, disabilities, culture, religion and so forth – the human melting pot. It has both splendour and richness. It also can give rise to apprehension and unease has when individuals or groups are viewed as ‘others’ who are not fully entitled to the rights and privileges enjoyed by ‘in’ groups (a process sometimes referred to as ‘othering’).

As in everyday living, values such as acceptance, appreciation and kindness, are features to be treasured in education and training. Meeting the needs of diverse groups implies interconnectedness and cooperation in establishing universal rights and building an equitable society. This stance calls for an end to greed, unrestrained capitalism and the continued destruction of Mother Earth. It stipulates that the voices of all students concerning their feelings and self-identified needs should not only be heard but be listened to attentively. Undoubtedly, there exist across our troubled world many obstructions to this vision which require urgent reform. Among an extensive list, depending on time and place, it may be the disregard of the rights of children who are forced to work rather than be educated, the underachievement of poorer white male adolescents, or vocational opportunities being denied to students who are physically disabled.

Difficulties encountered when teaching young persons with various needs are too often viewed as arising from ‘within’ or ‘belonging’ to them. From such a perspective, identified learning problems can be treated as if they are owned by students and their private responsibility; highly significant environmental factors, such lack of adequate nutrition or impoverishment, are overlooked. Consequently, learners are not properly involved in decision-making but are subjected to pronouncements which are hoisted on them by way of a hierarchical system. Parents and guardians, due to prior experiences, also can feel excluded and may need encouragement to build their trust and become actively involved.

Skilled educationalists realise that many young people require basic but essential assistance in ‘learning how to learn’ in order to ensure future progress. When acquired, pertinent learning skills – such as listening, collaborating, planning and problem-solving – can be transferred across curricular areas. Staff dedicated to inclusive education will have an expertise in: establishing learners’ plans; setting short- and long-term targets; creating warm and stimulating climates in which students progress confidently; implementing procedures relating to advice, guidance and support; and providing motivational feedback to students, parents, guardians and other relevant parties. It is necessary that, for the prerequisites and characteristics of high quality learning and teaching to be maintained, the capability and proficiency of staff are constantly upgraded through on-going professional development.

Every learner has the right to be included

All pupils deserve to be deemed worthy of making advancements at their own levels of attainment and capacities to learn. In practice, different forms of integration have been noted, for instance in terms of locations and placements, social arrangements and communal involvement, and functional and/or instructional settings. Genuine inclusive educational environments will fuse all such approaches into a cohesive and harmonious framework from which no student is excluded. Further, they extend to cover equitable opportunities for vocational training, employment placements and lifelong learning. The overriding philosophy must leave behind a previous ‘What are your problems and weaknesses?’ way of thinking and adopt an outlook which asks ‘In what ways can we assist you to cultivate your attributes and extend your talents?’ Staff endorsing inclusive learning cultures do not see themselves as working in ‘examination factories’; if necessary, they are willing to have fewer accolades regarding their rankings in ‘fake’ national league tables.

An inclusive approach can be a strong catalyst in bringing about connectedness among students of varying abilities and aptitudes. When approaches to education are focused on the identified requirements of each learner, progress along productive and rewarding pathways to success is augmented. It does not follow that some pupils should be cut off and isolated from their peers when undertaking tasks. Learners with diverse needs can expand their knowledge and skills within hospitable pedagogic cultures. Authentic collegiate learning provides a sound basis for the cross-fertilisation of views on how students can acquire information and benefit from new strategies on route to further accomplishments.

For educationalists to play an effective role, they have to challenge the status quo and provide the means of developing competences to overcome social and economic hardship. Programmes which nurture both personal qualities (for example, confidence, self-worth and resilience) and relevant practical know-how (healthy living, money management, occupational capabilities and so forth) to enhance future opportunities are of the utmost importance. For these purposes, advances in information and communication technology are helpful in enriching learning and teaching and in addressing differing needs. However, computer-based learning, though often very advantageous, is not a panacea; further innovations, as the quality of the machine-learner interface improves, hold high prospects.

All forms of educational provision require having well-defined roles, responsibilities and protocols in place for staff who are expected to respond to vulnerable students presenting risky behaviours, such as substance abuse, self-harm or noteworthy learning difficulties. At times, they may seek the input of professional agencies which have clear remits to contribute at whole-school, group or individual levels of involvement. Short-term targets may focus on speedy improvements in attaining specific competences through time-limited, solution-based approaches to resolving pressing personal concerns. Longer-term objectives could include the acquisition of interpersonal and employability skills. Indeed, for all, it is fitting to move forward well beyond existing problems and anxieties and to encourage positive and rewarding lifestyles.

The dangers of labelling and classification

The disadvantages of labelling can include obscuring learners’ individual needs, including unwarranted assumptions about their abilities, and inadvertently depriving them of opportunities to engage in inclusive practices. Labels also may have a negative impact on the confidence of teachers who might come to the erroneous conclusion that a pupil’s requirements and capacities cannot be accommodated within their school. Improved approaches to assessment can often identify the co-existence of differing cognitive and behavioural difficulties, all of which require to be addressed within carefully-tailored programmes of intervention.

Teachers and educational psychologists wish to identify strengths and requisites when assessing learners. Unfortunately, through engaging is a classification process they can unwittingly create a rationale which results in pupils being even further removed from mainstream education. For instance, students can suffer a ‘triple whammy’ as a specific categorisation: (1) can lower expectations regarding their potential; (2) can be used to back a decision not to accept them; and (3) influence the likelihood of them being permanently excluded.

There has been a widely-held belief that categorisation and labelling are important in providing legal protection, acquiring funding and gaining access to extra assistance within services and educational establishments. Though case studies to back this view can be found, there other ways in which these benefits could be obtained within a comprehensive framework of students’ rights. Very often, trying to fit an individual’s needs within a single grouping can have deleterious consequences. In general, there has been a distinct move away from the use of strict categories. However, even looser, eclectic descriptions, such as ‘experiencing additional support needs’, carry with them the danger of being interpreted as a rigid classification. Vigilance to ensure that a learner is not restricted (or should one say ‘imprisoned’?) through the improper use of a label is paramount. (After all, in real life, we all have additional support needs, albeit diverse ones at differing levels!)

Assessment which leads to well-directed assistance and incentives

Appropriate appraisal procedures are required to address diverse needs and play a crucial role for learners who are experiencing difficulties. They not only clarify the levels of current competences and capabilities but also indicate which forms of involvement and aid are most advantageous. In former practices, a great deal of credence was given by professionals to formal intelligence tests and standardised results relating to language and numeracy. In more recent times, there have been considerable criticism and scepticism of such types of normative measures. Very often, as an alternative, the emphasis has been placed on using assessment techniques to help structure and maintain effective learning environments, successful instructional strategies and adaptive behavioural interventions.

There is much to recommend in utilising processes which combine accurate assessments of individuals’ strengths and requirements alongside the identification of those circumstances best suited to their needs. Carefully-staged observations of everyday situations are valuable in avoiding simplistic analyses when attempting to map out how best to intervene. Within therapeutic and educational surroundings, formative assessment can be highly beneficial in terms of promoting personal growth and achievement. It enables teachers to highlight what learners have mastered already and to devise future learning pathways.

Skills relating to on-going formative assessment may appear easy on paper but in practice require substantial expertise. They include: devising and setting realistic targets and goals for all students; sympathetically but rigorously monitoring their progress; providing feedback in an inspiring manner to learners, parents, guardians and other relevant stakeholders on a need-to-know basis; and collaborating with students in reviews of their targets, goals and aspirations and in the planning of their next objectives.

Conclusions

The needs of too many students are frequently missed, their perspectives misunderstood and their voices ignored among the bureaucratic and complex demands of modern education. The acceptance of diversity and commitment to ensuring equity and inclusiveness entail high levels of respect, tolerance, compassion and appreciation to permeate throughout our various forms of learning and cultural provision. Unconscious bias has to be recognised and abolished along with negative stereotyping and labelling. Specialised support should be extended and focused within mainstream schools, if necessary using existing special schools and clinics as resource centres.

Provision for learners with diverse needs must wholeheartedly embrace inclusive practices. When effectively delivered, professional collaboration promotes confidence, self-belief and ‘can do’ mindsets regarding endless possibilities for personal, social and intellectual growth. Procedures which include thoughtful and regular monitoring to enhance emotional wellbeing, acknowledge achievements and generate further progress are key ingredients in maintaining successful development. If prescribed curricular topics or learning pathways prove to be ineffective, the duty for educationalists is to implement or ‘reclaim’ appropriate courses of study and training programmes for their students.

In summary, proponents of inclusive education aspire to developing welcoming, coherent and vibrant systems which:

  • are open and respectful to all without any imagined or created barriers to admission and full participation
  • provide personalised learning pathways which ensure meaningful progress regardless of personal attributes and social background
  • encourage learners to take responsibility to attain their desired learning outcomes through well-planned and accommodating procedures and practices
  • offer a comprehensive and well-integrated range of counselling, guidance and supportive strategies in conjunction with relevant professional agencies and community services
  • help to build and maintain peaceful, equitable and flourishing local communities.

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!

Background

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone JK Rowling 1997

‘Inclusive Education–Take Action!’ November 2015

https://www.european-agency.org/sites/default/files/Luxembourg_Recommendations_Flyer_EN.pdf

 

 

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.

References

http://www.rofa.org.uk/un-concluding-observations/

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

 

 

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.

inclusion

 

Background

Delivering Excellence and Equity in Scottish Education: A Delivery Plan for Scotland Scottish Government (2016)

http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2016/06/3853

UK Independent Mechanism Submission to inform the CRPD List of Issues on the UK (2017) Equality and Human Right Commission

https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/advice-and-guidance/un-convention-rights-persons-disabilities-scotland

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