Theresa Shearer: At last government is listening to what kids with learning disabilities need

Last year ENABLE Scotland started a national ­conversation about ­children and young people navigating their way through the education system in Scotland.

The Scottish education system will get new guidance next year on how to include children with learning disabilities ino the mainstream and support teachers to help them with their needs
The Scottish education system will get new guidance next year on how to include children with learning disabilities ino the mainstream and support teachers to help them with their needs

Our award-winning #IncludED in the Main?! campaign listened to and amplified the voices of more than 800 young people who have a learning disability, their parents and teachers.

Although progress is being made, young ­people and their parents feel that inclusive education is still far from a reality for those who have learning disabilities.

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In fact, 60 per cent of pupils who have learning disabilities told us they feel lonely at school, with more than 62 per cent saying people don’t understand them.

Theresa Shearer, CEO of ENABLE Scotland

Only 49 per cent of young people who have learning disabilities and/or autism spectrum disorders told us they feel they are achieving their full potential. What’s more, more than 80 per cent of the education workforce said that we were not getting it right for every child.

It was clear that drastic change was needed.

In the past year, ENABLE Scotland has worked with the Scottish Government to develop new guidance on the Presumption of Mainstreaming.

For the first time, Scottish ­education will have guidance which goes beyond the right to be present, to the right to be genuinely included. The draft guidance was launched for ­consultation last week, alongside news that the Government will work with Education Scotland to develop inclusive education resources to ­support headteachers, teachers and support staff, which will be available early next year.

Theresa Shearer, CEO of ENABLE Scotland

These positive commitments address the calls for change expressed by young people, their ­parents and teachers through #IncludED in the Main?!

Now, ENABLE Scotland is hosting an #IncludED conference, addressing the next steps for every pupil who has a learning disability.

The free conference, at Glasgow Caledonian University on 18 November, brings together experts from a range of sectors to identify solutions to improve the experiences of young people who have a learning disability in Scotland’s schools.

We must work to address prejudices within schools, through lessons on learning disability, as well as enhance teacher training to begin to reverse the decline in specialist expertise in classrooms. Russell Easton, 43, who has a learning disability, campaigns for ENABLE Scotland.

He said: “When I was at school in the 80s things were different. Learning disabilities weren’t understood in the same way that they are now. But there’s still a lot that needs to change. In some ways, we’ve still got a long way to go to make sure that every child gets the best school experience and that no one is left behind.

“My nephew has learning difficulties. I see him going through school and everything his parents are going through to make it the best experience possible for him.

“My nephew has access to resources I never had. It would have made a big difference to me had the same support and understanding existed back in the day.

“The lack of support has affected my life as an adult. I have had ­difficulty sustaining employment. I’ve suffered from stress, depression and confidence issues.

“I wasn’t given the right opportunities to make the most of school and that’s sad. It’s important we focus on kids who have learning disabilities. We have to do our best to make sure they feel included and supported.”

When Nick and Vickie’s son Jack, 9, was diagnosed with autism five years ago they worked hard to understand the world from his perspective and learn how to support him.

Jack’s schooling is a blend of ­mainstream education and a specialist communication unit. His parents are committed to finding tailored solutions that suit his needs.

They said: “What they don’t tell you when your child gets the diagnosis is you will have to learn to fight for your child, to be very determined to make sure you get what is right and ­appropriate. We are not experts in education. But we are experts in our son.

“The educators try very hard to meet his needs but constantly face resource and financial challenges.

“What you do now at school for these young people will set them up for the rest of their lives. This is ­something that will help these young people achieve their best and maybe even reduce their support needs in the future.”

Theresa Shearer, CEO of ENABLE Scotland.