Jan Savage: Lack of support from school at root of problem

Too many young people who have a learning disability are still excluded by friends and peers. Picture: Steven Brown

Too many young people who have a learning disability are still excluded by friends and peers. Picture: Steven Brown

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AN inclusive education is far from reality for many, writes Jan Savage

Young Alex* feels excluded from his school and his classmates, his lessons and the social activities that make up school life. The 13-year-old has autism, ADHD, and a hearing impartment. He is regularly excluded from his mainstream school and prevented from representing his school in football competitions.

His Mum, whose mental health has suffered due to the strains of dealing with the situation, says a lack of support from the school is a root of the problem. This is underpinned by a cut of 10% for Additional Support Needs staff in Scottish schools since 2010.

His is not the only story. We have been hearing about ‘real-life’ education experiences for those with learning disabilities since launching our national conversation on education in Scotland, ‘Included in the Main?!’

This national conversation aims to listen to the reality of educational experiences for young people who have a learning disability in Scotland today. Early indications from 250 respondents tell us that an inclusive education is far from reality for far too many.

Too many young people who have a learning disability are still excluded by friends and peers, from classrooms and curriculum and from opportunities and activities that make up every part of school life.

The newly elected Scottish Parliament has the opportunity to change the life chances of children like Alex. We urge them to listen to the voices of the children, parents and teachers, and engage in a progressive dialogue about the whole system, or risk marginalising young people with learning disabilities.

Early indications from our survey show that sadly more than 70% of young people with a learning disability in school said they don’t get enough help and time from teachers and 94% of parents feel schools don’t have enough resources to work with young people who have a learning disability.

And almost half of young people (45%) who have a learning disability have been informally excluded from school, 17% on a weekly basis. These statistics alone aren’t the problem - there’s the added issue of a large discrepancy between the reasons for exclusion given by schools and the belief of parents that it happened because their child wasn’t getting the support they need. We want teachers to join in the conversation, and tell us how it feels from their perspective.

Post-election discussions have seen a renewed focus on raising attainment for all pupils but this mustn’t just focus on rich and poor. It must equally focus on those who need additional support. There has also been a commitment to review the current guidance on the presumption to mainstream education for pupils with a learning disability. And questions on class sizes have already been raised. This is a real chance to make a truly inclusive education system a reality.

The Scottish Government has a real chance to deliver on promises to give all Scotland’s young people the best possible future. That’s what we all want. Let’s ensure the voices of young people like Alex and his Mum, and his teachers, are included in that debate.

Young people, parents and professionals working with pupils with additional support needs can fill in the survey http://bit.ly/1WWKZet

• Jan Savage, Executive Director of Campaigns and External Affairs

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