Taking big steps on the journey to inclusion
Last weekend, it was my pleasure to welcome delegates to ENABLE Scotland’s inaugural National Conference at Glasgow Caledonian University. In my address to the conference, I reflected on the big steps we have taken on the journey to inclusion as a country – in 1974 when we won the right for children who have learning disabilities to receive a classroom education, again in 2000 when we created the legal presumption to mainstream and the right to be educated in the same classroom as everyone else, and again in the 12 short months since the launch of our #IncludED in the Main?! Campaign.
The campaign amplified the voices of over 800 young people, parents and teaching professionals – who shared their views on the reality of educational experiences for children and young people in Scotland who have a learning disability.
When we started, the issue of support for children who have learning disabilities in the classroom, their parents, and the teachers working with them, was described as the ‘elephant in the room’ – something people knew wasn’t always quite right, but that we didn’t discuss much or didn’t know what to do about.
We launched our #IncludED in the Main?! campaign report in December 2016, holding an event in the Scottish Parliament to continue the conversation with decision makers a few days later – focusing not only on what those 800 voices had told us, but importantly, what the solutions should be – our 22 steps on the journey to inclusion.
Since then, #IncludED in the Main?! has secured headline coverage across multiple news outlets, two parliamentary debates, a sector award, but most importantly – has now secured FOUR specific actions from the Scottish Government – real victories for all of our #IncludED in the Main campaigners!
Step 1: Guidance on how to deliver inclusive education
The biggest step forward came earlier this month, with the government officially launching its consultation on new guidance for local authorities on the presumption to mainstreaming – 17 years after the legal presumption was introduced.
This guidance recognises the need to ensure that children and young people have equal opportunities to participate as fully as possible in every aspect of the life of their school – including school trips, games and extracurricular activities.
This means that, for the first time, we have education guidance which goes beyond the right to be present, to the right to be genuinely included.
ENABLE Scotland was pleased to work with the Scottish Government in the development of this new guidance, and I strongly encourage you to have your say and get involved in the consultation process which is open until February 2018
Step 2: Independent, nationwide research on your experiences
This month, we also welcomed the news that the Scottish Government has commissioned independent research into the education experiences of children, young people, parents and school staff. This announcement was made alongside a further positive commitment to create dedicated inclusive education resources for classrooms.
Step 3: Toolkit for teachers
The Scottish Government has now committed to develop specific toolkit resources to support school staff to deliver an inclusive learning environment – another key recommendation of #IncludED in the Main?! – and we look forward to supporting the development of this toolkit next year.
Step 4: Support for classroom assistants
And we took one more critical step forward just this week – with the Deputy First Minister confirming his intention to establish a regulatory body for the classroom and pupil support workforce – to support their professionalism, standards, training and development.
Each of these changes was a clear call to action first highlighted in the findings of our #IncludED in the Main?! report. Through our campaign, we had called for the government to “listen and act” – and these essential commitments have shown that they are doing exactly that.
However, we are still on a journey and must maintain our focus on achieving the next steps towards delivering true inclusion and the best education experience for all.
And part of that, and the approach in the new guidance from the Government, is recognising that understanding and embracing difference is actually key to delivering inclusion. We want every young person in Scotland to know more about learning disability, to help them play their part in creating an inclusive school environment and a society where people who have a learning disability do not face stigma and bullying outside of school and as they grow up.
Our next big step
As part of this commitment, at our conference, ENABLE Scotland launched a series of Lessons on Learning Disability. Developed in collaboration with The University of Strathclyde and The University of Glasgow, these school-based resources have been designed to educate school children about the experiences of people who have learning disabilities. By teaching pupils about disability at a young age, we aim to end all forms of bullying, discrimination and exclusion before they even begin.
You can take action today as part of our #BetheChange campaign and help make sure these resources are used in your local schools. Our colleagues at Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities have already made sure that the lesson plans can just be dropped into the teaching curriculum, so teachers have 5 ready made lesson plans, with a full set of resources and teacher notes.
We have taken big strides, but we’re on a journey, and we still have a way to go. Join us!
Take action today and help us get there:
• Make your pledge to #BetheChange
• Help us make sure these lesson plans are in your local schools
• Download our #IncludED National Conference resources
• Donate – just £5 a month could help us issue more #BeTheChange packs schools and youth groups in Scotland – £20 would help us train even more Change Champions!