In 2019 Angela Morgan carried out a review of additional support for learning (ASL) in Scotland. The report on her findings, ‘Support for Learning: All our children and All their potential’, was published earlier this year. This week the Scottish Government confirmed that it has accepted the majority of its recommendations and has published an action plan.
It’s inclusion, Angela but not as we know it.
Of course, in reading the ‘All Our Children’ report on additional support for learning we headed straight to its section labelled Mainstreaming and Inclusion.
As excited interested readers we wanted to know the answers to a couple of questions. Would the report align with our vision of working to recognise, to realise and to extend the rights of children and young people with disabilities to inclusive education? Might the report show that others in Scottish education share our “passion for ensuring all children and young people and schools benefit from learning together with peers in inclusive comprehensive schools that meet their needs”.
Sadly, dear reader, the answers were no and no.
The section Theme 2: Mainstreaming and Inclusion starts with a misrepresentation.
“At political, policy and strategic levels the principles of Inclusion and of the Presumption of Mainstreaming in education are widely and strongly supported.”
Were that true there would be no need for A24 Scotland to exist.
In 2017 the United Nations expressed concern that education in the UK lacked a strategic approach to inclusive education. United Nations concerns and recommendations seem to be missing from the All Our Children’s report or its desk exercise on evidence.
It wasn’t just the United Nations that felt concerns about inclusive education in the UK.
The Scottish Parliament has debated mainstreaming and inclusion in Scottish education on several occasions in the past three years. Such debates can hardly be an indication of wide and strong support. Indeed two of Scotland’s political parties voted for a motion that stated “the presumption to mainstream has laudable intentions”, the motion talked about “special educational needs” and that the government will work “to review the presumption to mainstream policy to ensure there can be more uptake of the provision of places in special schools.”
Recently numbers attending special schools in Scotland have increased; marginally yes but still increased. We tend to agree with the United Nations Scotland should: –
“Adopt and implement a coherent strategy, financed with concrete timelines and measurable goals, on increasing and improving inclusive education”
The What Next for Scotland report on the review of the UK’s response to the UN recommended that the Scottish Government develop laws and policies to support inclusive education in line with UN recommendations.
However not to worry while the broad definition of inclusive education wasn’t referenced in Theme 2 Mainstreaming and Inclusion. Scotland’s All Our Children report was bound to address disabled children’s rights in Theme 8 Understanding Rights. Surely here would be where we could find a commitment to disabled children’s rights to inclusive education.
There is some tough talking “Children and young people, parents and carers and practitioners all need to be fully informed and supported to understand the implications of relevant rights based legislation” or the call for a “robust rights based framework” The problem being that none of this seems to apply to disabled children and their rights.
The Scottish Report gives no attention to the rights of disabled children to inclusive education as set out in UNCRPD (2006) or UNCRPD General Comment no. 4 on inclusive education (2016) or even the Human Rights Council (January 2019) report on ”Empowering children with disabilities for the enjoyment of their human rights, including through inclusive education”
In the end the fundamental misunderstanding and ignorance of inclusive education, the lack of attention to international law and its policy guidance continues to justify the need for A24 Scotland.
In our view this Report takes us no further forward in part because at legislative strategic and policy level Scotland’s laws namely Section 15 and mainstreaming legislation are not compliant with human rights and international law as set out by UNCRPD and its guidance from 2017 in General Comment No 4 and the Human Rights Council paper of 2019.
At the same time as “the Scottish report” was published UNESCO set out its recommendations for inclusive education. They adopted the broad definition of inclusive education. They identified the key measures on inclusive education and the key international reports. It praised Scotland’s approach to inclusive education in terms of curricular materials for LGBTQI learning.
They also opened with the comment that reminds us given three recent debates about mainstreaming and inclusion in the Scottish Parliament. That the guid conceit expressed in the Scottish report’s opening statement seems flimsy when compared to the GEM report’s opening which
“… notes that debating the benefits of inclusive education can be seen as tantamount to debating the benefits of the abolition of slavery, or indeed of apartheid.”
#BlackLivesMatter has encouraged us to take a new view of Scotland’s role in slavery and its abolition. COVID-19 has laid bare the underlying currents of inequalities in Scottish society and our schools.
The need for systemic change in Scottish education has to start with recognising the human right of children with disabilities to inclusive education. It’s not just about their feelings it’s about changing systems for all our children.