I am often asked what school my son will attend when he starts next year. When my daughter was at the same stage he is now, there was no question that she would go to our local primary school.
This time around there is a question and it’s a loaded one. It relates to whether he will attend mainstream or special school. He is a very bright and capable boy who has cerebral palsy, which simply means he has very little control over his body. In my mind there is absolutely no doubt that he will go to the same local primary school that his big sister attends.
That sentiment is reinforced by his speech and language therapist. When he was about two years old, before I even knew the relevance, she told me that there’s a presumption of mainstream education in Scotland.
Although that presumption has stuck with me and has been reiterated by other professionals working with us, I now realise that the system as it stands is more complicated. There are a number of exceptions to the presumption of mainstream. Those exceptions have the potential to affect a number of peers that we met through early intervention support groups.
Even though we are in no doubt that mainstream is for our son those peers are now at the point of having to make a decision about placement. Should they choose mainstream? It has the convenience of the local primary school along with siblings and friends but may lack much needed resources and expertise. Or should they choose the area’s special school which has great facilities and specialist teachers but with the inconvenience of additional travel and segregation from peers and local community? The choice is not an easy one.
Through A24 I now understand that not only is there a presumption to mainstream but also that there is a right to education as stated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Just last week the Scottish Government announced its intention to incorporate it fully and directly into law. That means my son has the same right as everyone else to an education. The same right as his sister. The same right as his friends and peers.
Of course, his right to education can be fulfilled in either a mainstream or a special school. As the system stands we have a choice to make for our son that we didn’t need to make for his sister. It’s a choice where neither option is perfect. Each option only offers a compromise.
However over and above that stands the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 24 recognises ‘the right of persons with disabilities to education…Parties shall ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning…’
So not only does my son have a right to education he also has a right to education along with his friends. He’s not special, he’s just like everyone else except that he needs a bit more support than most. He has every right to be in the same classroom as everyone else his age.
As he finishes the first term of his pre-school nursery year, preparations for his transition to primary one are about to begin. We are embarking on a journey, along with a full raft of supporting professionals, through an education system that doesn’t necessarily fit as well as it could. I feel sure that we’ve made the right choice but surely there must be a way to build an inclusive education system which enables full recognition of everyone’s rights and ensures that children with disabilities are included in their communities from the very beginning?