Inclusion Now 58

Supporting Scotland’s Journey Towards a more Inclusive Society

A24 Scotland is a new network of Disabled people, parents of Disabled children and professionals in Scotland. Two of A24’s founders, Fiona Couper-Kenney and Jennifer Rutherford, spoke to Inclusion Now about their campaign for full implementation of Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

A24 (or Article 24), is a new organisation in Scotland, named after the section of the United Nations Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities that aims to secure inclusive education. A24 wants to achieve inclusive education for all children and Young people in Scotland’s schools, and consider inclusive education a human rights issue. They believe that all children and Young people learn better in inclusive schools that take full account of difference.

The group formed after meeting on a Partners in Policy Making Course in 2019. They run a blog and use Twitter and Facebook to communicate with growing numbers. As their blog states:

“We are a group of parents of Disabled children, self-advocates, researchers, academics and practitioners. We are committed to supporting Scottish education on its journey towards a fully inclusive system. Inclusive education is a human right and needs systemic change in all our schools for all our children.”

Inclusion in Scotland

Scotland currently does well with inclusion in mainstream, and almost all Disabled children and Disabled Young people attend their local school with their friends. Seven authorities have no segregated schools, and several only have one. But A24 are concerned about plans to reduce the provision for inclusive education and increase the uptake in segregated schooling. They want to build on the successes of Scottish inclusion, not turn back the clock and institutionalise Disabled children and Young people. They believe inclusive education should be integral in Scotland’s national policy and legislation framework.

The Scottish Parliament have debated inclusion several times but never considered planning for inclusive education, or taken account of international conventions such as UNCRPD and the General Comment No.4. As a result of this lack of political leadership, Scotland is now being left behind by countries like Italy and Portugal, who have placed human rights and inclusive education at the centre of policy. A24 believes Scotland should do the same, and wants to see:

  1. Every education authority having a legal duty to provide inclusive education without exception.
  2. Specialist support being available to all schools rather than segregated provision and hoarding of resources in segregated SEND schools.
  3. Every school to plan and identify ways to improve their approach towards including all children.
  4. Teachers and support staff in every classroom confident and competent in the range of practice for inclusive education.
  5. All children to be supportive of each other in their school community.

Richard Rieser caught up with A24 to find out more:

Tell us why you’re interested in education rights.

Jennifer Rutherford:
“I am the parent of a five year old with cerebral palsy. My son is non-verbal and non-mobile. He is very bright and is learning to communicate using eye gaze. He started our local primary school in August and so far his mainstream experience has been brilliant. He is a valued member of the school where all the children are learning from each other. However, his inclusion feels precarious and at any moment could change. So many people asked me where he was going to start school. They do not ask this of parents of non-Disabled children. Why shouldn’t he go to his local mainstream school? His enrolment at mainstream school challenges people’s attitudes. We think our society is inclusive, but it is not.”

Fiona Couper-Kenney:
“Each of my four children has different needs. Two are autistic, and they have had very different experiences of education and schooling when compared to their non-autistic peers and siblings. All children have needs and require support as they develop, however some needs are met automatically in school and others require a lot of brokering. I would love to see more children included in the way mine are just now – with flexibility and understanding, and involving them in decisions about their education – however, I know not everyone experiences this. One of my children has had some time in a segregated school for a while after illness, this was our best option at that time. However, the curriculum and culture of the school did not accommodate their aptitude or potential. Perhaps more importantly, they were not able to have local friends, due to traveling out of our area to attend school. Learning about the rights of Disabled people at Partners, and about ALLFIE in England, was very empowering for me, enabling our family to seek full inclusion locally for all our children.”

What impact does A24 want to have?

A24’s Blog includes law and policy to share knowledge about rights and the Scottish education context. We hope these posts are used to empower parents, students, and school staff to create the best situations for each child, as is their right. We hope that policymakers use these posts to reconsider the caveats in the current system, which allow for exclusive practices to continue. Our most read posts, however, are stories. We are collecting and publishing stories about good inclusion as these are tangible ways for people to know what is possible. We try and get parents, children and Disabled advocates to talk about their experiences in a way that shows what is possible. A film would be an amazing way to share good practice.”

“Article 24 goes back to the precarious situation we find ourselves in. Before my son started school, I took the opportunity when we had to move house to look around local schools and think what would suit him best. I found Jonathan Bryan’s documentary, ‘Locked-in Boy’ on CBBC and then read his book ‘Eye Can Write’ when my son was aged three and that provided a model for me as he was very similar in his communication needs. It inspired me.

In the end it was better for my son to stay in the place where he had his friends and where his sister already attended school. We have been really lucky but I have also seen parents really struggling with which school to send their child to. Do they choose the local school where their child is not going to necessarily get the attention they need; or do they send them to a special school away from their peers and friends, but they are going to get the support they need? It is a difficult choice for parents. I want to share the knowledge and experience of parents, children and schools who have achieved a school situation which did not require compromise between education, socialising and support – all are in the same place.”

What is next for A24, perhaps in a five year timescale?

“The Scottish Government are committed this year to fully incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scottish Law and we can build on this, highlighting the additional rights that Disabled children and Young people have under the UNCRPD. As parents, we want to ensure that the right situation exists for our children now – which includes working together with school staff engaged with our own children – and also lobbying MSPs and the Government for law and policy change to impact schools for all children.”

“In the next five years we are unlikely to remove segregation. We hope to have shared many stories and made many more connections. We aim to raise the profile of inclusion with Local Authorities (32 in Scotland that run all state schools), teachers, teacher trainers and law makers. We want to develop more work with researchers and academics. We need funding and a formal structure. The way is not marked, but through the developing network of A24 parents are already connecting over issues, such as transitions. In five years, we hope more children are well included at school rather than precariously.”

David Watt added this statement:
“A24 are keen to see the right to inclusive education implemented and established as part of Scotland’s journey towards being a more inclusive society. At present, the law only places a duty on the 32 education authorities to provide education not in special schools – the presumption of mainstreaming – except where a child’s ability is suited to mainstream school education, or where their education would affect the education of others and where the cost is unreasonable. These exceptions impact on Disabled children’s right to inclusive education with their peers. This law of presuming placement in mainstream education was passed in 2000 before Article 24 and the right to inclusive education was set out. It fails to take account of UNCRPD (2006), the concluding observation and concerns of UNCRPD in their report on the UK in 2017 and guidance from the Human Rights Council in 2019, which described Article 24 as a ‘multiplier’ right. At present, we are left with a divisive set of statues. In addition, the political landscape can seem unresponsive to claims for the rights of Disabled children. In 2020, UNESCO in their Global Education Monitoring Report, stated that debating inclusive education is to be seen as similar to debating the abolition of slavery or ending apartheid. In the last four years, the Scottish Parliament has debated the presumption of mainstreaming on three occasions. A majority of MSPs, from SNP and Conservative parties voted to see it as having only “laudable intentions” i.e. not a right for Disabled children. Then they compounded this by seeking to increase numbers in segregated special provision. In recent years in Scotland, numbers of children in segregated special schools has increased.

As well as debating the merits of inclusive education, MSPS have also shared their concerns about how well children’s support needs are being met in education in Scotland. Scotland’s legislation here is farmed through the Additional Support for Learning Act passed in 2004 and amended twice in 2009 and 2016. Most recently, a further report was published “All our Children”, which recorded the dissatisfaction of many parents teachers and Young people but also addressed their positive comments on the approach, which aimed to move from a child deficit model towards one that focused on changing the learning environment to meet the needs of all. Such a laudable intention has not been realised, mainly due to financial pressure and cuts to education authority budgets, leading to declining numbers of teaching and support staff offering additional provision. The “All Our Children” report identified all the problem but it seems has not persuaded the Scottish government to change the course of restoring the cuts to education authorities. The report also did not seek to change Scottish Legislation to bring it into line with best practice internationally regarding the legislation at present as sufficient.”