New mainstreaming guidance welcome – but gap between policy and young people’s lived experience must be resolved
Children in Scotland welcomes the publication of new guidance on the presumption of mainstreaming, and research on additional support for learning, published by the Scottish Government earlier this week.
However, the charity highlights an ongoing disparity between very sound policy on support for learning and inclusive education and the reality reported by children and young people with additional support needs, their parents and the practitioners who support them.
Sally Cavers, Head of Inclusion at Children in Scotland, said:
“The new mainstreaming guidance from the Scottish Government is high quality and sets out an ambition that we support wholeheartedly. We are particularly pleased to see the prominence given to four newly defined features of inclusive practice.
"But the challenge, as ever, will be to ensure that resources are available so these guidelines can achieve their aims.
"There is general consensus in the education sector and across political parties that the law and guidance on additional support for learning is good and the principle of presumption of mainstreaming should exist. We agree with the Scottish Government’s statement last year that mainstreaming is a ‘central pillar’ of an inclusive approach to education.
"However, despite the broad agreement, we repeatedly hear that the detail of guidance on providing additional support is not being consistently applied. This means that in too many cases appropriate support in mainstream schools is not experienced by the children this policy was designed for. We know that many pupils with additional support needs do experience excellence in education and we want this to be the case for all children.
"It is vital that all policy and legislation in relation to support in schools is informed by young people with additional support needs, and that young people can see the link between policy, legislation and their own lives.
"Overall, the Scottish Government’s research presents a positive picture of how the 100 children and young people consulted have experienced additional support for learning, and the experiences of those who support them.
"While encouraging in its own terms, the research findings are not consistent with what we have heard about experiences of inclusive education and mainstreaming."
The experience for pupils of certain school environments was key to the findings of the Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved report (click to read) that Children in Scotland produced in partnership with Scottish Autism and the National Autistic Society Scotland. One parent commented:
‘I was told they had no suitable placement for my son. He had tried mainstream high school but was unable to attend because of extreme anxiety. I was offered a special school but was told that academically this would not provide a suitable level of education for my son who is high functioning and clever.’
Discussing mainstreaming and inclusion, recent comments from the Young Ambassadors for Inclusion have included:
‘Don’t segregate pupils with needs.’
‘Many class teachers and other staff do not have awareness of additional support needs, what that means for us and how to support in the classroom.’
‘Pupils need access to all areas of the school and curriculum.'
‘Supportive teachers in mainstream are crucial.’
‘Teachers need qualifications to work with pupils with additional support needs and medical needs.’
The current pressures on the education system are felt particularly acutely by the workforce. In the February-March 2019 edition of Children in Scotland Magazine, Jenny Kemp, National Officer (Education and Equality) at Educational Institute of Scotland, said:
‘Teachers strive every day to get it right for every child but the practical difficulties of meetings the needs of children with autism in the current system intensify yearly due to unceasing budget cuts, decreasing numbers of support staff, scarce CAMHS and Educational Psychology services, and limited professional learning for teachers.’
We need to be upfront and honest about this core problem if we are to make progress in mending the gap between inclusion policy and a failure of implementation on the ground.
The Scottish Government is right to focus its education policy on excellence and equity, but too often we hear from young people and practitioners that their experience of education isn’t fair or equitable. Young people are telling us that they want choice. If we are to live up to the spirit of inclusion, that means ensuring all young people experience equity, fairness and choice – and that inclusion policy helps deliver this.”