Both my children currently attend mainstream primary school where in theory they both access the same educational opportunities. My daughter is neurotypical with no additional support needs and my son is autistic and has benefitted from additional support. I value their equitable access to school, and I have worked with the school to ensure my son’s needs are met within the same school as his sister and his peers. Did I make it sound simple?
Scotland’s journey towards inclusion is a work in progress.
Well, there are funding choices being made that may make the presumption of mainstreaming impossible to achieve for many disabled children. Please be in no doubt a failure to provide adequate support in mainstream schools for children with additional support needs is to choose to discriminate against disabled children. Underfunding risks creating a situation where constructive exclusion can occur meaning children are confined to special schools or home education. There is a need for quality, mandatory training so head teachers, class teachers and teaching assistants are not overwhelmed, unsupported or lacking in confidence. This lack of knowledge can lead to a lack of empathy allowing discrimination to occur for example, I have been asked to understand “how busy they are” and to remember that “these children often get off to a slow start in school”. The lack of knowledge around autistic communication is also an issue leading to instances of unnecessary physical handling of my son. Communication between schools and families can be difficult, overwhelming and often family’s voices are not heard. These negative experiences can create an adversarial relationship between families and schools and leave families isolated in school communities. There is a real need for schools to find ways to communicate with families in an open and mutually respectful way that allows space for families to be able to share knowledge based on their own lived experience. There are difficulties in the present system but working towards inclusion is still achievable.
When it works it’s worth it!
OK so, friends don’t need funding or special training. A school can help promote inclusion by making sure all the children are involved with their peers which means happier and more confident children across the classroom. As soon as my son had support to help make friends, he was much happier. And some teachers just seem to get it. They simply teach to my son’s strengths and I’m glad to say his teacher this year is great. My son is confident with her and when children feel happy, they are learning. It’s particularly noticeable when a school staff member has personal experience of disability and then they seem to have a great relationship with him quite naturally. This highlights the importance of recruiting people with lived experience of disability into the school system and of forming relationships with families who have lived experience of disability. Good quality training is still necessary of course and the most progressive and insightful training comes from disabled or autistic people’s organisations who have first-hand knowledge and skills. I imagine that teachers were once the kids that loved school and thrived there, so maybe that’s why they sometimes struggle to relate to kids that don’t experience that environment in the same way. In fact, most teachers probably didn’t have the opportunity to attend a school where they knowingly shared a classroom with a disabled classmate; it’s so important schools now break that cycle and work towards inclusion.
A24 Scotland’s Future
I am a member of A24, a new organisation in Scotland which works to achieve inclusive education for all children and young people in Scotland’s schools. We are a group of parents of disabled children, disabled people, practitioners and researchers. I support the aims of A24 because I want both my children to continue to belong in our local school community and because all children do better in inclusive education systems. Children with disabilities who experience mainstream education are healthier, happier and will be more likely to participate in their communities. They have an improved outcome in terms of employment and independent living after school which ultimately saves money. They learn academics plus develop socially and emotionally. In fact, all the students in mainstream settings have daily opportunities to practice social skills like acceptance, patience and empathy when disabled children are present. All the children experience how to live, learn and play together. Growing up you learn who you are from the influences around you. School education systems can help set your expectations for life. I want to ensure that my son is as welcomed and valued as my daughter is in a mainstream setting and he is not regarded as a guest who can be uninvited at any time. He deserves equity in his experience of education. Most importantly he has the right to be in the same school as his sister and his friends and he wants to be included with them.