Breaking the barriers to inclusion and equality
Today is a significant day, as the Scottish Government consultation on ‘Excellence and Equality for all: Guidance on the Presumption to Mainstreaming’ closes.
This guidance – called for by ENABLE Scotland – is a crucial next step on the journey to inclusion and we welcome its publication and intent. I cannot overstate its importance, coming 17 years after the legal presumption to mainstream in Scotland was introduced – a whole generation of school children later.
Last year, our award-winning #IncludED in the Main?! campaign powerfully demonstrated that inclusive education is far from a reality for too many children in Scotland – with 52% of pupils who have a learning disability telling us that they do not feel that they are getting the right support at school, and 78% of education staff saying that there are not enough additional support for learning staff in their school.
Since then, I have been pleased to work with the Scottish Government in the development of the new guidance, which now goes beyond the right to be present, to the right to be genuinely included. It recognises the need to ensure that all children and young people have equitable opportunities to participate as fully as possible in all aspects of school life, including school trips, games and extracurricular activity while acknowledging that, for some children, specialist support is something that will always be required, and should therefore be available.
Of course we recognise that guidance is only the first, albeit very significant, step on the journey towards inclusion.
Delivering true inclusion in the classroom, and beyond, also requires a fresh look at additional support and resources for educators within the school community, and across education as a whole – something which our response to the consultation has highlighted.
Going beyond the classroom
Something our ACE Youth chairperson, Lucy, said during #IncludED in the Main?! has always stuck with me:
“I just get on with school but it is hard. I feel like I’m not part of the crowd and sometimes don’t feel included in conversations with others. Classmates talk about university and their career and often I don’t feel included in those conversations.”
That is why I am so proud that this week ENABLE Scotland launched our Breaking Barriers programme. Delivered in partnership with the University of Strathclyde and ScottishPower, this is the first University-led course for people who have a learning disability in Scotland, offering a qualification and work experience with a major employer.
Breaking new ground
Traditionally, aspirations for people who have a learning disability progressing from school to higher education have been low.
Only 56 school leavers in Scotland who have a learning disability went on to higher education at the end of 2015/16. That is less than 5 per cent of all pupils who have a learning disability.
One of the reasons for this low figure is that many young people who have a learning disability grow up believing higher education is not for them, and often little is done to encourage them to change that view.
Breaking Barriers sets out to change that.
Our first cohort of learners are trail blazers. They are showing a generation of young people who have a learning disability that higher education can absolutely form part of their future.
2018 is the Year of the Young Person, and – as we continue on our journey towards inclusion – we should be setting the bar high, raising expectations and #BreakingBarriers this year and for many more to come.