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A big step towards inclusive education, but the journey’s just beginning

This opinion piece is almost 6 years old

Jan Savage welcomes a plan to create new education guidance to ensure pupils with learning disabilities are fully included in Scotland's schools

Last week the Scottish Parliament echoed with the 800 plus voices that joined our national conversation on life at school for young people who have a learning disability – #IncludED in the Main?!

In the parliamentary debate led by Graeme Dey, Jackie Baillie, who is convener of the cross party group on learning disability, said: “We can and must do better. A good start would be to implement the 22 recommendations set out by Enable Scotland”

Our report, which presents the views of over 800 young people, parents and teachers, and outlines Enables Scotland’s 22 recommendations for change, was called a reality check by others during the debate.

Jan Savage
Jan Savage

And, in a significant step on the journey to inclusion, the debate culminated with the minister announcing that the Scottish Government will publish Guidance on Inclusive Education for public consultation on 19 May 2017.

For the first time, Scottish education will have guidance which goes beyond the right to be present to the right to be genuinely included. This fulfills our foremost recommendation from #IncludED in the Main?!

22 Steps on the Journey to Inclusion

In my recent blog for Third Force News, I wrote about of the challenges highlighted by #IncludED in the Main?!

Mainstreaming is not the same as inclusion and young people who have a learning disability are still excluded. The creeping reduction of specialism within Scottish education contributes to systemic breaches of children’s rights to education and equality.

#IncludED in the Main?! is about acknowledging the challenges that exist but, more importantly, moving them forward to change things for the better. It is about solutions and we have 22 of them – 22 Steps on the Journey to Inclusion for every pupil who has a learning disability.

Guiding the way on the journey to inclusion:

Enable Scotland welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to guide the way on the journey to inclusion with contemporary guidance. Guidance issued in the year 2000 focused on the right to be present, but not how to be inclusive. To deliver genuine inclusion we need contemporary guidance that goes well beyond that.

I hope this guidance, as well as being the first step on our 22 step journey, also creates the space and impetus to take the other 21 steps.

We believe that to change things for the 60% of pupils who have a learning disability who feel lonely and misunderstood by their peers, lessons on learning disability should be embedded into the curriculum for all students. That is our second recommendation, and we believe pupils who have a learning disability should be empowered to have a key role in this.

This position is evidenced by the fact that nearly one-third of 1,550 secondary pupils in Scotland say they find it difficult to make friends with young people at their school who have a learning disability. And almost half of the education workforce said children and young people need help to better understand and engage with their peers who have a learning disability.

To support teachers, 62% of whom have experienced stress and professional anxiety due to lack of support to teach pupils with learning disabilities, we need to reinvest in specialism. Our recommendation 15 is that we act to protect and enhance investment in the role the role of Additional Support for Learning teachers.

And we should incorporate modules on disability inclusion, additional support needs strategies and positive behaviour support into Initial Teacher Education programmes.

Finally, steps 11 and 12 focus on plans to gather evidence on initial teacher education programmes coverage of literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing. We believe these should be extended to include coverage of additional support for learning needs within those measurements.

These are just a sample of some of the steps to fully inclusive education. I hope you will agree that these are achievable and realistic recommendations that will help create an equal society for every person who has a learning disability. To find out more about the 22 Steps on the Journey to Inclusion for every pupil who has a learning disability read our full report.

Jan Savage is Enable Scotland's executive director of campaigns and external affairs



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