Staff and Scottish politician posing in front of an inflatable elephant

Report shows education system leaving pupils with learning disabilities side-lined

December 8, 2016 Campaigning

Hundreds of children, parents and teachers have spoken out to say that the Scottish education system is leaving pupils who have learning disabilities side-lined – and even at times without an education.

And leading charity ENABLE Scotland will take their voices to the Scottish Parliament today (Thursday) – saying Scotland can’t ignore the ‘elephant in the room’ any longer.

According to a new report by the charity, #IncludED in the Main?! 22 steps on the journey to inclusion, which listened to the views of 800 young people who have learning disabilities, parents and education professionals, Scotland’s education system is not getting it right for Learning Disability.

As snapshot of report shows:

  • 80% of the education workforce says we are not getting it right for every child.
  • 98% say that initial teacher training does not prepare them for teaching young people who have additional support for learning needs, including learning disability.
  • 62% of class/subject teachers said they’ve experienced stress and professional anxiety due to the thought of not having the right support to meet the needs of children and young people who have a learning disability.
  • 60% of young people who have a learning disability told ENABLE Scotland they feel lonely at school, with 62.5% saying people do not understand them.
  • 67% of them have been bullied.
  • 46% said they don’t get the same chances to take part in games in the playground as everyone else, with 23% not getting to go on school trips.
  • 40% of parents/carers said their child had been informally excluded from school, with 19% saying this was happening on a weekly basis.

Now the charity’s report is calling on the Scottish Government to lead on “systemic change” of the education system, laying out the next 22 steps on the journey to inclusion, based on the 800 detailed responses to its seven month national conversation.

These include:

  • Supporting the current policy with a proper framework for Scotland to work within that really includes pupils who have learning disabilities.
  • Urgent action on visibility and accountability through the Schools Inspection system on the use of ‘informal exclusions’, whereby young people are being denied an education, and their lack of access to school trips or other activities.
  • Better support for teachers including modules on supporting young people who have learning disabilities to be included in Initial Teacher Education and Headship programmes, as well as new CPD courses on learning disability.
  • The setting up of a commission, led by the Scottish Government and COSLA, on the role of classroom assistants, whose numbers have been reduced in recent years.
  • Calling on all schools to embed conversations about learning disability into the curriculum.

Jan Savage, ENABLE Scotland’s Executive Director of Campaigns and External Affairs, said:

“It’s time to talk about the elephant in the room and confirm what most teachers, parents and children have said privately for a very long time. The presumption to mainstream policy was designed to deliver inclusion – it hasn’t. It has resulted in more children being educated in the same classroom, which is an important first step. But 16 years on, we can also now see that it has taken specialist expertise out of the Scottish education system, and left young people who have learning disabilities side lined. Pupils have told us that they feel bullied, isolated and excluded. Parents have told us they feel frustration that the system is not working. And, importantly, teachers feel untrained, unsupported, and stressed. 800 people have spoken to ENABLE Scotland about how they feel. It’s time to listen, take stock, and then act to ensure that we are getting it right for every child, in every classroom, in Scotland.”

She added: “Scotland is on a journey to inclusion. It’s only 30 years ago that children who had a learning disability were deemed unable to be educated. We have come a long way. The introduction of the presumption to mainstream policy 16 years ago, which moved us towards including most pupils who have learning disabilities into mainstream schools, was a huge step. But since then, we have also seen a gradual and systematic reduction in all the specialist support that is needed to underpin that policy, like training, and access to specialist in-school support.

“The result of this lack of investment is the elephant in the room – a struggling system that is leaving pupils who have learning disabilities isolated and lonely, and teachers who feel that they are not able to support them. For the sake of the next generation of children who have learning disabilities and other support needs, it’s time for Scotland to take action to address these failings. The recommendations in our Included in the Main report are the next steps on the journey to true inclusion.”

Children & Young People’s Commissioner, Tam Baillie said: “My office is frequently contacted by parents who believe their children are not getting the education they have right to expect. Most frequently, the issues raised are in regard to the inadequate provision of additional support for learning for children and young people.

“In Scotland we have progressive legislation, but it has not always been fully implemented for a number of reasons, including a lack of resources. Inadequate education provision not only affects learning but, as this report shows, it has a negative impact on children and young people’s mental health. We have international obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to provide an education which is directed to ‘the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to the fullest’. We must put in place the investment necessary to ensure that our children and young people with additional support needs are afforded the same opportunities as others to learn and flourish.”

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