Welcome to e-include, the e-journal of Inclusion Europe.
Speech from Kay Tisdall, University of Edinburgh. Europe in Action 2008: Education for All!
Let me start with a story about a story.
I work with a woman called Mary Duffy. She works for a large children's organisation called Barnado's. She was meeting with the chief inspectors of education in Scotland, about school inclusion. She started off with this story:
This is a very popular children's story in Britain. You can buy it in any bookshop. Here is an abridged version.
Winnie the witch lived in a black house; it was black on inside and black on the outside. She lived there with her cat Wilbur. He was also black. And that is how the trouble began.
When Wilbur had his eyes open Winnie could see where he was. But when he was asleep....There were all sorts of problems. Something had to be done. Winnie waved her magic wand. And Abracadabra. Wilbur was no longer a black cat. Wilbur was green. And all was well.
Until Wilbur went outside. Winnie couldn't see him even when his eyes were open. She was furious.
She waved her magic wand five times and Wilbur was multicoloured. No she could see Wilbur wherever he went. But he wasn't happy. Wilbur climbed to the top of the tallest tree to hide. He looked ridiculous and he knew it. Even the birds laughed at him. He stayed up there all day and all night and Winnie was worried. She hated to see Wilbur miserable.
She waved her wand again, and again, and again. And now instead of a black house she has a yellow house with a red roof, pink and white cushions, a blue bed and gleaming white bath and she can see Wilbur no matter where he sits.
Mary went on to present research evidence. This showed the school inspectors they should support her programme. I think the story is a great way to get to the core of inclusion. Inclusion is not about changing the individual child but about changing the environment. I have also been struck by why Mary told this story. She argued that change is hard for most of us. To inspire people to change you need to combine both emotion and evidence. How do we get the ideal balance of appealing to people's hearts and heads?
With that question in mind, the rest of this session will revolve around my experiences trying to change educational policy in Scotland. Previously I worked for the national children's organisation, Children in Scotland. We had two major pieces of education legislation during this time, which changed policy for inclusion in education. What I propose are my own reflections and not those of the organisation and certainly not those of the government.
Each person present will be in a particular policy or practice context. You will asking the questions:
What are the levers for change?
Who is influential?
What will influence them?
Who are my allies?
Here is the Scottish government's promise:
'We wish to see an education system that is inclusive, welcomes diversity and provides and equality of opportunity for all children to develop their personality, skills and abilities to their fullest potential.'
What is the reality? To answer this question I proposed 3 questions:
1. What did children and young people want changed?
2. Why did some aspects change? Why did others not change?
3. What were the tensions between the groups who wanted change? How did policymakers react to them?
Firstly, what did children and young people want changed? All of the people present today at the conference, your countries will have signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. All of your countries have an obligation to ensure that children's views are given 'due regard' in all decisions that affect them.
This has become part of policy rhetoric in Scotland - although not always a reality! But it gives people like me a platform to ensure children and young people's views are considered in policy making, since government knows it can be heavily criticised by children's organisations.
I feel very strongly about children and young people's views being heard. So, I had sought funding to set up a programme, where we could involve interested groups of children with disabilities. The idea was to try to avoid the parachuting in for consultation and instead work with groups over time, to try and make policy change.
We started off with what the young people wanted. Education was clearly important. The government came to me and asked whether the groups would provide them with more information. Given they were asking us, it provided us with the opportunity to make some deals. For example, I said that:
- We had to give feedback to the groups, about what the Government was doing.
- There would be a commitment for ongoing consultation with these groups.
- The groups would have the opportunity to meet with the Minister and discuss what was being done.
Always strongest before you've signed the contract! We made sure that virtually all of the money was distributed to the groups of children and young people, as we are aware that consultation takes both time and money to do properly.
Secondly, I want to take a look at Change. Exploring 3 examples I will look at the success of different projects. The video shows that children and young people had different views on their annual meetings. They did not appreciate endless assessments and had many ideas on how to improve meetings and wanted a child representative.
In the end, the following was decided:
- Particular assessments would not be required by law.
- Education authorities are told to look favourably on children having supporters or advocates along to a meeting.
- There are legal requirements for children's (and parents') views to be taken into account at various stages
- Code of practice has recommendations for meetings.
- Education authorities must now publish information. It must include the role of children, young people and parents.
Children and young people said that friends and other social aspects of school were very important. These issues should form a part of their assessment, supports and reviews. Finally, it was decided that a small number of children and young people will have coordinated support plans. These are legal documents. Services will have to provide what is stated in these plans. However, no mention is made of play and recreation. This is due to the fact it is considered to be childish, despite all research evidence showing the variety of emotional and physical benefits of play. Children and young people repeat their calls for respect. They want to have their views heard. Working with the children and young people they majority would like to dispute a decision they felt was wrong and few felt able to do so.
We hadn't considered this a controversial proposal. Children could already dispute schooling decisions in Scots Law. However, there was a lot of misinformation flying around in the media about parents' rights. Thus, the Scottish government were nervous about infringing on this pressure group. The Minister in parliament made the following statement on this issue:
'It seems that the amendments would create a situation in which...there could be tensions between the rights of parents and those of the child. The amendments do not stipulate whose right would prevail in the event that a parent and a child disagreed on a matter. That could be a very significant point. Conflicting appeals, for example, would be particularly difficult'
It was clear that parents were more important to the politicians. However, there was not necessarily any conflict between parents and children on this issue, it was merely the government who had become nervous.
The impact on policy in Scotland has been the presumption of mainstreaming. Essentially the law now says that it is now expected that all children with intellectual disabilities or not, should be in in 'mainstream' schools. Only exceptional circumstances should children be in special schools. But there are exceptions. One of the worst but very typical in the UK, is if there would be 'unreasonable public expenditure'.
Changes happened in 2004 in the Education Act. A much wider definition of 'additional support needs' replaced 'special needs'. A duty on education authorities to make 'adequate and efficient provision for such additional support as is required by that child or young person'. We also have the introduction of a more flexible curriculum. This may or may not foster inclusion, depending on how it is used. Some changes occurred within educational settings, but not a dramatic shift towards inclusion. The government continues to feel caught between the different wishes of parents, choosing to maintain both systems given the passions on both sides. What concerns me, is the evidence of back-stepping on issues ignoring children's rights.
Sometimes in policy change there are opportunities when you get the 'big bang'. That research project comes up with this finding and 'poof' the government takes it on (only sometimes). That is a pretty rare occurance. Most policy change is 'drip, drip'. It took us over 10 years to get a children's commissioner in Scotland, and eventually we decided across statutory and voluntary organisaton we would just start asking for it at every opportunity that was possibly relevant. Eventually it worked.
In conclusion, coming back to Mary Duffy's point, we need to win over people emotionally and with evidence. We need to make it easy and possible for structures and people to change. We need to anticipate opposition and show people why our option is better. And finally, we need to be strategic to make the best use of our energies.