SNP’s 3 presumptions of failure in inclusive education

Socialist Educational Association Scotland highlights the failures of the SNP Government to make a success of inclusive education in our schools. Over the past 10 years they have failed to plan or fund high-quality inclusive education. The result has been that some children are struggling to be included. Our schools and authorities are facing cuts where they should be supported to invest in inclusive practices.

After 10 years of SNP rule, Scotland has not built upon past successes in inclusion. The SNP have now locked us into a system that doesn’t meet criteria set out internationally or meet the needs of some children and their families. The world has moved on as Scotland stands still.

In September 2017, the United Nations expressed their concerns about the lack of progress with inclusive education in Scotland. Largely unreported by the Scottish media, they were concerned that “the education system is not equipped to respond the requirements for high-quality inclusive education” and “the fact that the education and training of teachers in inclusion competences does not reflect the requirements of inclusive education”.  In addition they were concerned with the “persistenceof a dual education system that segregates children with disabilities in special schools”. For the UN it was a human rights issue and Scotland was out of line with the UN’s view on inclusive education (See UNCRPD General Comment No.4).

The UN were clear on their recommendations. The government should “adopt and implement a coherent and adequately financed strategy, with concrete timelines and measurable goals, on increasing and improving inclusive education.”

So pretty clear as far as the United Nations goes regarding the human rights of disabled children. So what do we get? The Government re-issued in a revised format the guidance for presumption of mainstreaming from 2000 and consulted on its presumption of mainstream that falls short on a commitment to inclusive education. The consultation paper lacked any acknowledgement that the UN had concerns and offered no response to the UN recommendations. The General Comment issued in 2016 by the United Nations provides a framework for inclusive education – and you guessed it –  this helpful framework was ignored.

It’s as if we have learned nothing in the interim. No reference to Curriculum for Excellence nothing about children’s entitlements within their learning. The SEAS believes that every child is entitled to personal support to help them meet their needs. It’s an aspirational agenda for an inclusive society. The SNP are consulting on three ways to fail. No strategy is offered for inclusive education. At heart of the document no mention of the rights of disabled children to inclusive education and nothing to say about the success in inclusive practices across Scotland.

The SEAS rejects the presumption of failure in the three exemptions approach. We need to implement the United Nations recommendations. Scotland can build on the successes of inclusion. Successes that include the social mix of our inclusive comprehensive schools especially at primary stages, the successes in including and promoting achievement of children from ethnic minorities and the successes in the range of bases units and classes within mainstream schools that assist and promote successful inclusion.

We think Scotland can be a more inclusive society and are schools can be inclusive of all through a strategy to deliver inclusive education that will include all children to attend local schools.  international advice and guidance would be helpful drawing on United nations advice and recent guidance from UNESCO on the how of inclusion and equity. It would involve the move by special schools  towards being resource centres and support services for inclusive practices as happens in many European countries. It needs to include funding mechanisms that take account of successes in inclusive practices. All of this is best done through  well-resourced inclusive comprehensive schools. We need to invest and foster real inclusion rather than reduce staff, cut services and offer excuses and exemptions from inclusive practices and children’s human rights.

Guidance on the presumption of mainstreaming 

UN General Comment No. 4 on inclusive education (2016)

A guide to inclusion and equity UNESCO (2017) 

 

 

SEAS critical of SNP plans to reduce democratic accountability in education

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Empowering Schools is the misnomer headlining the SNP’s consultation ahead of their next tinkering with successful structures and approaches in Scottish education. A more accurate title would be Disempowering Local Government. The document sets out  proposals that will reduce the influence and scope of education authorities, pass powers and duties to headteachers without due accountability and impose centralised distant bureaucracies onto the system.

The SEAS is concerned that the SNP are drawing from failed Tory policies in England and are seeking to dismantle the range of roles whereby local authorities lead and manage in across the 32 councils. By pushing towards education “siloed out” of local authority leadership these proposals do nothing to tackle the criticism from the Christie Commission which spoke of a system:-

“As a whole, the system can be ‘top down’ and unresponsive to the needs of individuals and communities. It lacks accountability and is often characterised by a short-termism that makes it difficult to prioritise preventative approaches.

Addressing these systemic defects will require a fundamental overhaul of the relationships within and between those institutions and agencies – public, third sector and private – responsible for designing and delivering public services.”

Tackling poverty and attainment gaps cannot be successfully carried out by schools themselves or primarily by empowering headteachers. The proposals for a Headteachers Charter seek to dismantle the strengths of our education authorities and reduce democratic accountability. Headteachers are best placed to be given additional powers within a local council.

The SEAS supports more local decision-making at school level to ensure a dynamic flexible approach to the curriculum and teaching and learning. SEAS would want Headteachers to be accountable to deliver on the “principles of democracy and social justice through fair, transparent, inclusive and sustainable policies and practices in relation to: age, disability, gender and gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion and belief and sexual orientation. “ (GTCS 2012)

Schools should be collaborating more at community and classroom level. These plans do nothing to support further development of Curriculum for Excellence as a 3-18 project.

Schools, authorities need to collaborate to fulfil this approach that includes aims of –

  • developing a comprehensive wraparound model of education, care and health from early childhood and ensure that all children and family services support parents and carers where appropriate in identifying children’s needs and providing them with timeous and appropriate support
  • developing a single, broad and inclusive framework for the curriculum from early childhood to adult learning. This should include personalisation and choice, depth, breadth, relevance, challenge and enjoyment and progression and value what learners know and can do so that all learners can be proud of their achievements.

The Regional Improvement Collaboratives are an answer to a question no one has asked and conflict with aims of services across the public, private and third sector working together in line with Christie recommendations.

We note the recent evidence from schools in the Northern Alliance collaborative area who told the Education and Skills Committee that they had not heard of the Northern Alliance. They shared their “scepticism about the effectiveness of a Collaborative on the scale of the Northern Alliance. It was felt that people ‘on the ground’ were best placed to know the community. Teachers wanted support from someone who knew the area they were in”

We agree with the teachers in their evidence to the Education Committee, the six RICs are too distant from the local communities and classrooms. The SEAS is strongly opposed to the bureaucratic structural change of the Regional Improvement Collaboratives.

 

In terms of pupil participation the document is light on encouraging the widest possible forms of pupil participation too often pupil participation is selected from a narrow group of pupils. Our schools should be encouraging the participation of all.

On the proposals for setting up a Workforce Council and attacking the GTCS SEAS feels they lack a clear rationale and seems confused about who are educational professionals, para-professional and other education staff.  Many reports on Scottish education ascribe substantial strengths to the locus and role of GTCS. The proposals fail to set out why this needs to change.

The SEAS was concerned with the consultation, questions were on occasion unclear and unhelpful. We welcome the opportunity to contribute but have no confidence that the SNP will be listening to communities, teachers and parents across Scotland.  The SNP cannot continue to cut budgets to local authorities and not take responsibility for problems and challenges that our authorities and schools encounter. We need real investment in education not distant bureaucracies or more unaccountable officials.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conferring on children’s rights

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Three recent conferences considered responses in Scotland to United Nations Sustainable Goals and Conventions of Rights.   In November the Melting Pot in Rose Street hosted the Rights of the Child UK Annual Conference while Edinburgh’s City Chambers held Learning for Sustainability Scotland’s exploration of how schools and communities embed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their work. In December Glasgow’s Hilton convened the National Participation Event reflecting on human rights in Scotland after four years of the Scottish National Action Plan (SNAP).

The most notable feature across the events was the very wide range of participants from across Scotland’s civil society. Concern for human rights and improving Scotland’s response was consistently demonstrated as a passion among those joining in these events. Overall there maybe needed to be a joined up response across sustainability goals and human rights conventions within a human rights model across Scotland.

The Rights of the Child Conference had an UK focus with participants from Ireland too. This led to different perspectives and strategies on children’s rights. Presentations were academic-led in the main though Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People shared his views on discussions.   Many in the audience seemed unaware of concerns and recommendations from the UN for Scotland’s education system in securing inclusive education as a human right for disabled children.   Overall the research base offered an update on strengths and weaknesses in Scotland’s approach to the rights of children with scope for improvement through incorporating the UNCRC into Scots law – something for Scottish Labour to consider?

The Learning for Sustainability event linked schools and communities together to focus on the Sustainable Development Goals. It was a handy introduction to the 17 SDGs and their coverage across planet, people, profit. The conference was enhanced with short snappy presentations about practical examples carrying out work with the SDGs across Scotland. Such presentations concentrated on sustainability aspects like food and environmental education. More could have been directed to SDG4 and its Equity target when discussing how Scottish education can take forward its role with SDG4 which is “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.     This was a good event for anyone wanting to get up to speed with practical ways to support sustainability through schools and communities.

The major conference event of the three would be the SNAP one in Glasgow in December. Around 150 people attended an event designed to give an overview of Scotland National Action Plan for human rights. The Chair of the Scottish Parliament’s Equality and human Rights committee spoke of the cross-party support in the Parliament then made a party political about how the UN commented on disability rights in Scotland. No questions were taken from the floor and the event was over-managed with all interactions mediated through chairs or floor observers. Even the panel discussion at the end was panel members’ observations only. However this was an over all positive event that updated those involved in what has made Scotland’s national action plan a success. Again recent criticisms from the UN were, apart from their selective positive use, ignored. The one event where questions and discussion points were permitted from participants was a Scottish Youth Parliament event during lunch where members of the Youth Parliament outlined their recent work in promoting the rights of young people through their Right Here, Right Now campaign.   Young people expressed interest in the UNCRPD’s Concluding Observations and General Comment No. 4 about disabled children’s right to inclusive education. We shall see.

Taking the three events overall, there is a healthy level of participation across civil society in Scotland. This needs to be marked by recognising progress but also being aware of where there is more to do. The levels of participation have made good impact in some areas such as the engagement for the national plan. What needs to happen further would be linking SDGs within a human rights approach across Scotland and also being aware of the impact across protected characteristics to ensure that the rights of some are not neglected or marginalised.

Rights of the Child Annual conference November 2017

Taking action on the UN Sustainable Goals across communities and schools, November 2017

SNAP conference – National Participation Event, December 2017

 

SEAS welcomes (re-) appointment of Iain Gray MSP as education spokesperson

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SEAS welcomes Iain Gray’s appointment as Education Skills and Science spokesperson for Labour in the Scottish Parliament.  The SEAS are pleased to welcome Iain’s  continued leadership in this area to challenge the unwelcome, regressive changes of SNP and to build an agenda for real change in education that will deliver for our schools and children and young people. Indeed we remember that back in the day the SEAS were one of the first groups in the Labour Party to support his nomination as MSP (back in the last century!).

 

 

 

“All things socialist education”

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Maryhill and Springburn CLP invited the Socialist Educational Association Scotland to one of their meetings in Possilpark, Glasgow to share a discussion on “All Things Socialist Education” this week.

SEAS opened the discussion seeking members’ views on the key principles of a socialist education system.

CLP members outlined a series of essential characteristics of our socialist education system and areas for continued progressive development. All children and young people should be assessed on their potential, truly assessment for all. Concomitant with this would be a highly qualified workforce, continuing raising the standard of our teaching profession.   In general the SEAS values our teachers and we can further develop our trust in their qualities, serving within public education.

Members were convinced of the need to treat children and young people as individuals and take account of and support those with differences such as children with autism. People with conditions such as dyslexia, autism or other additional support needs should not be seen as a problem as they were in the past. Members’ personal experiences of large class sizes in secondary and setting and streaming were raised. Speakers spoke of that feeling of being sorted out and devalued by a system that can seem just to reproduce and reinforce inequalities.   Children and young people are now identified with their support needs. Yet SNP cuts in education, particularly to support for learning teachers and classroom assistants, means many children with support needs do not get the support they are entitled to or that they need to benefit from school education. In some schools there is clearly a level of disengagement of working class young people at secondary stages.

Aligned to this were cited the words of Jimmy Reid

“Look at these housing estates and high-rise flats – look at all the windows. Behind every one of these windows is somebody who might be a horse-jumping champion, a formula one racing champion, a yachtsman of great degree, but he’ll never know because he’ll never step on a yacht or formula one car – he’ll never get the chance.”

Small changes taken forward with effective leadership can make significant differences to schools and push forward in a positive fashion schools, that had a poor profile previously among their community. There is value in supporting the early years more as well as a breadth of experiences across music, arts and sport.

The factory system of schooling should be ended and ways found through shared approaches and mentoring schemes to address the disparity in social and cultural capital between middle- and working-class communities.

The SEAS spoke to their five point agenda of investment in early years, the promotion of play and personalised pathways with children being able to start school at 5, 6 or 7.

Inclusive education can address the sorting and streaming of children by ensuring support for difference whether social class, gender, additional support or disability, ethnic minority or sexual orientation. Instead of cuts we need to invest more and consider changes to school organisation.

The SEAS recognises the need to promote successes in vocational approaches ending the academic/vocational divide and equipping young people with the skills for life and work.

The SEAS would also like to see the end of all state support for private fee-paying schools and centres. They should not receive any public support either indirectly as charities or free support from Scottish Government and education Scotland. Even though their numbers are declining we want that decline to continue.

Finally the SEAS is clear that accountability needs to be reshaped to ensure greater accountability to communities whether in school or around a school.  Accountability needs to be broader than high-stakes inspection.  The SNP are reducing democratic accountability by removing responsibilities from local councils to bureaucratic regional collaboratives and taking away teacher democracy through removing elections to the General Teaching Council of Scotland.

Bill Butler, chair of SEAS summed up the views and set an agenda that takes account of the strengths of Scottish education yet identifies where we need to do better. He challenged the SNP to retract their cuts in education. He noted the SNP seems to be no friend of accountability and democracy in Scottish education.

We Need to Talk About Private Schools

Seems now we just can’t keep those exclusive private schools out of the glare of poor publicity. Given the present context, the SEAS supports the call for a consideration of the governance and safeguarding issues in the private fee-paying sector in Scotland. Maybe even ask the question do we really need them?

We do need to be mindful that schools in the private sector, face a context of significant challenges. Their challenges include decade-long declining numbers, continual concerns about safeguarding in independent schools yet a softly, softly approach from the SNP Government and Her Majesty’s Inspectors to Scotland’s elitist autonomous schools.

Firstly let’s be open and honest about private schools. They are in decline. They are unable to reverse a decade-long decrease in numbers and most worrying for them this is marked at the primary stages with about a 10% fall since 2007. Scottish parents have continued growing confidence in the state system’s very good inclusive primary schools to deliver the capacities of a broad general education better than the private sector.

We know from basic economics that decreasing demand for commodities like private schooling leads to price reductions. Now in Scotland we have the introduction of “no frills” education. It will be interesting to see how numbers shake-up in the private sector. The “no frills “ approach of the recent potential new entrant to private schooling in Scotland was welcomed by the Tories education spokesperson as something ”imaginative and creative.” While Tories and SNP cut education budgets and support private schooling the Labour Party would reverse such cuts and invest in inclusive approaches.

Secondly, recent concerns about safeguarding in private schools are not one offs or individual attacks launched on a school as the principal of one of Edinburgh’s schools viewed complaints. In 2017, HM Inspectors published their review of the Scottish education system from 2012-2016. There was only one sector among primary, secondary, special schools and prison education where concerns about care and safeguarding were expressed. It was stated in the sector report on independent schools that

“inspectors identified weaknesses in approaches relating to child protection and safeguarding in a few schools. This included staffing issues such as disciplinary procedures and safe recruitment practices.”

During this period one private school Hamilton School in Aberdeen was closed by Scottish Government’s registrar of independent schools. According to the BBC report, the now unavailable HMI report stated

“Due to the extreme and serious management failings, along with the endemic, negative ethos within the school, HM Inspectors are not confident that children at the Hamilton School and Nursery are safe.”

Others schools outwith the state system, like Merchiston Castle or Donaldson’s School have had reports highlighting weaknesses in care and welfare and safeguarding of children. The SCIS annual report for 2016 managed to skip over such concerns. The SEAS wonders if care and safeguarding are accounted for in the new imaginative, creative no frills private sector.

The third factor compounding all this is Scottish Government’s and Education Scotland’s over-supportive and positive acclamation of this divisive sector. John Swinney this year was a key speaker at the council of independent schools and wanted independent schools to collaborate more with state schools. It seems the shared agenda would be around governance (backing SNP moves away from accountability of local councils) and testing.

Due to cuts in numbers of inspectors, Scottish schools in general across the state sector are less inspected than previously. However it looks like there is a deliberate policy of not inspecting and over supporting the independent sector. Over a four-year period only 10 private schools were inspected but 25 had support visits.

Under SNP, in addition every private school is supported by one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors who acts as the Link Inspector for that school. No local authority receives such a high level of support.   This softly softly approach seems to be very well received by the private schools. The SEAS believes no charge is made for such civil service time.

This level of backing is before we discuss tax avoidance and their charitable status. The SEAS fully supports the Scottish Labour Party ending their charitable status and tax exemption from VAT. We’d like to see them lose the charitable treatment from the SNP and HMI too.

SEAS sees private schooling as only reinforcing inequality. Indeed there is no better representation of the impact of inequity in education than that of private schooling. It highlights a divide in society and a marked difference in how Scottish Government is too willing to support not the many but the few.

 

 

 

 

The world moves on, Scotland goes backwards

It wasn’t possible for me to catch all of the debate on presumption of mainstreaming in the Scottish Parliament on 2nd November yet from what I did see I was struck by the consensus among MSPs across parties and their stated commitment to mainstreaming. It seemed that principles of inclusive education were accepted by our MSPs. MSPs welcomed the newly issued guidance on presumption of mainstreaming and spoke highly of the work of ENABLE and their report Included in the Main? So far so good!

The SEAS is supportive of the principles of inclusive education yet unconvinced by Scottish Government’s view on inclusion as described by the presumption of mainstreaming.

The amendments carried focused on the impact of cuts and underfunding. The Labour amendment highlighted “that one-in-seven ASN teaching posts have been cut since 2010” believing “that, if mainstreaming in education is to be fully effective, the Scottish Government must ensure that schools have the funding and staff to deliver it.” Inclusive education is cost neutral compared to special school provision yet Scottish Government continually defund.

Both Tories in England and SNP in Scotland have managed austerity through approaches to our education system over 10 years that defund, discredit and demoralise public sector services like our comprehensive schools.

However, let’s be clear here Scottish Government’s guidance on the Presumption of Mainstreaming is unsatisfactory. It looks back to 2002 when Section 15 was passed as part of School Standards Act.

Since then the world has moved on.  In 2006 the UNCRPD was passed and is now over ten years on. In 2016 the UN added its General Comment No 4 which provided a template for the development of inclusive education.

The General Comment clarified the UN’s views on Article 24 and inclusive education

“The right to inclusive education encompasses a transformation in culture, policy and practice in all formal and informal educational environments to accommodate the differing requirements and identities of individual students, together with a commitment to remove the barriers that impede that possibility. It involves strengthening the capacity of the education system to reach out to all learners. It focuses on the full and effective participation, accessibility, attendance and achievement of all students, especially those who, for different reasons, are excluded or at risk of being marginalized. Inclusion involves access to and progress in high-quality formal and informal education without discrimination. It seeks to enable communities, systems and structures to combat discrimination, including harmful stereotypes, recognize diversity, promote participation and overcome barriers to learning and participation for all by focusing on well-being and success of students with disabilities. It requires an in-depth transformation of education systems in legislation, policy, and the mechanisms for financing, administration, design, delivery and monitoring of education.”

Scotland has become stuck and hung up on mainstreaming rather than considering ways to implement inclusive education successfully.

In September 2017, the UN was critical of the UK Government and the devolved governments for their performance in ensuring inclusive education. The UN offered four concerns and three recommendations.

They recommended the Scottish Government should take account of the UN’s general comment no.4 and specifically recommended that they should

  1. develop a comprehensive and coordinated legislative framework for inclusive education
  2. adopt regulations and monitor developments to combat disability-related discrimination and /or harassment
  3. adopt and implement a coherent strategy financed with concrete timelines and measurable goals on increasing and improving inclusive education.

In November 2017, Scottish Government’s definition of their vision for inclusive education is

‘Inclusive education in Scotland starts from the belief that education is a human right and the foundation for a more just society. An inclusive approach, with an appreciation of diversity and an ambition for all to achieve to their full potential, is essential to getting it right for every child and raising attainment for all. Inclusion is the cornerstone to help us achieve equity and excellence in education for all of our children and young people.’

Across the world countries have  developed and improved their frameworks for inclusive education whether at the global and European levels. Scotland will continue to fail to implement disabled children’s rights to inclusive education by failing to fund inclusive practices, failing to aspire and put forward a strategy to fulfil disabled children’s rights and failing to legislate for inclusive education rather than mainstreaming and its exceptions. Scottish education under SNP are going backwards!

In the General Election 2017, the Labour Party’s “For the Many” had it right.  It offered that the Labour Party

“will deliver a strategy for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) based on inclusivity, and embed SEND more substantially into training for teachers and non-teaching staff, so that staff, children and their parents are properly supported.”

It also stated that

“Labour believes in the social model of disability–that it is society which disables people, and it is our job to remove those barriers. The previous Labour government signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The next Labour government will sign the UNCRPD into UK law.”

Let’s hope when the next Labour government comes as come it will for all that,  that we in Scotland catch up with developments across the world for inclusive education.

 

Background 

UNCRPD General Comment 4 (2016) http://www.refworld.org/docid/57c977e34.html

]Scottish Government Presumption of Mainstreaming https://news.gov.scot/news/presumption-of-mainstreaming

For the Many Labour Party Manifesto 2017

UNCRPD  report on UK and Scottish Government (2017)https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/news/2017/august/human-catastrophe-–-new-un-condemnation-uk-human-rights-record

 

 

Brian Boyd writes on The Inclusive Comprehensive School

Along with the National Health Service, inclusive comprehensive schooling is arguably the most significant socialist achievement of any post-War Labour Government. Circular 10/65 set out to remove the pernicious practice of selection and put equality of educational opportunity at the heart of secondary schooling. While an ideological battle waged in England and Wales, the transition was smoother in Scotland. Not only were omnibus schools the norm in many parts Scotland, but the 1947 Advisory Council Report, though never implemented, had proposed a model of comprehensive schooling.

So, where are we now? Are our educational establishments as inclusive as they could be and, if not, what needs to be done?

It is important to state that primary schools have always been comprehensive in their intake and inclusive in their philosophy. But secondary schools struggled from the outset to remove the practice of selection. Far from being abolished, it simply moved from external to internal. The use of setting (by “ability” in individual subject) or streaming (by general “ability”) has become the norm, notwithstanding the absence of any research evidence to support it. It militates against inclusivity.

So, what can be done? Within this 500 word piece I can offer only some headlines which might be returned to later:

  1. All pupils in a catchment area should have their schooling in the local cluster. The impact of placing requests and private schools on local communities should be reviewed as a matter of urgency.
  2. The focus within the secondary school has become attainment, as measured by test scores and exam results. This leads to teaching-to-the-test and an emphasis on “academic” subjects to the detriment of vocational. This needs to change. The present Scottish Government should abandon its plans to introduce National Standardised Testing. Its desire to close the gap and tackle child poverty is admirable, but it refuses to listen to any advice which challenges its misguided policies.
  3. Early years and primary should be equal partners in the inclusive comprehensive project and the cluster (or family) of schools should be seen as the core provider of schooling. Decision-making and budgets should be devolved to the cluster.
  4. Pedagogy, not structures, should be at the heart of improving wider achievement, not just narrow attainment.
  5. Positive action should be taken to support clusters in areas of social and economic disadvantage, including incentivising the best teachers to work there.

Research over the last 50 years shows that schools matter, but we need to recognise that education takes place in many contexts. The role of parents is crucial, and higher and further education, along with business, must play their part.

If we are looking for models, Finland is a good starting point. The comprehensive school, a focus on creativity, partnership with business, intelligent accountability and a trust in teachers are among its key strengths. Curriculum for Excellence sought to embed these principles.

But, we also need the same level of political will which brought us comprehensive schools in the first place.

Background reading

Secondary Education: The Fyfe report (1947)

The organisation of secondary education Circular 10/65 (1965)

 

 

 

Investing in real change early

OECD early start

SEAS sees a set of changes at Early Years to include

  • personalised pathways at early years including opportunity to defer starting age
  • more challenging and enjoyable learning through an emphasis on purposeful play
  • increased investment in early years targeted on care and education in most deprived areas
  • greater collaboration across communities, centres and schools

Across Europe the developed mature education systems of Europe, debate continue in learning’s “bangs for bucks” discussion. Within an education system when is the greatest impact upon learners’ development? Where is investment going to offer the best return? More often, the answer is being found in an “invest to save” preventative agenda within early years.

UNICEF opened its 2017 report on education in the early years with a call to the financial case for investing early.

“The financial case for investing in children’s early moments is strong. The rate of return on investing in early childhood programmes can be about 13.7 per cent. The benefits are reaped in better education and health outcomes, lower crime and higher individual earnings. Investments in children’s early development can lead to better individual adult incomes of up to 25 per cent.” UNICEF (2017) “Early Moments Matter for Every Child”

The SEAS sees the need for the Scottish Labour Party to develop a comprehensive wraparound model of education, care and health from early childhood. Such services should be flexible, accessible, affordable and responsive to community needs with all year round provision and ensure that all children and family services support parents and carers where appropriate in identifying children’s needs and providing them with timeous and appropriate support.

Within such care and learning services we need more flexibility across the starting ages for children with the opportunity for the delay and deferring when schooling starts. In addition we need to shift from schooling to better quality learning. The evidence now from research and neuroscience shows that children develop best through challenging, enjoyable learning. An emphasis on play at the early years is crucial.   We can look to invest more in Early Years. Furthermore we should be targeting resources towards communities facing challenges of poverty and deprivation. A child’s foundation years in early learning and care settings are crucial to future successes.

In Scotland we start with advantages in early years learning due to Curriculum for Excellence. Curriculum for Excellence provides curriculum continuity with its shared set of experiences and outcomes 3-7 years.

When Curriculum for Excellence was starting it was proposed

‘… bring the 3–5 and 5–14 curriculum guidelines together to ensure a smooth transition in what children have learned and also in how they learn. This will mean extending the approaches which are used in pre-school into the early years of primary, emphasising the importance of opportunities for children to learn through purposeful, well-planned play.’

Further investment in early years can build on the flexibility within the framework of Curriculum for Excellence to promote challenging enjoyable and relevant early learning through purposeful play and staggered start dates for children. Like the Senior Phase learning pathways at early stages need to be more varied, diverse and individualised.

The SEAS wants consider greater flexibility in starting ages beyond 5 and greater flexibility in the curriculum to ensure more play and experiential learning across 0-7 years. Many children will benefit from a flexible school start.   It would be better than too-early and too-formal approaches of schooling. (Children in rows, rigid groupings, strict timetables). The SEAS proposes greater flexibility in starting ages evaluated as part of a Curriculum for Excellence review. We need to make schools more ready for children not get children ready for schooling.

The OECD recent report, Starting Stronger supports the idea of more flexible support proposing better quality in early years. It emphasis the benefit of educational interventions at early childhood for those disadvantaged children compared to well-off children.

Again the UNICEF report stated

“If we don’t invest now in the most vulnerable children and families, we will continue to perpetuate intergenerational cycles of disadvantage and inequality. Life by life, missed opportunity by missed opportunity, we are increasing the gap between the haves and the have-nots and undermining our long-term strength and stability.

In terms of tackling poverty it would be helpful to have children living in areas of deprivation to be well supported and targeted in their community through connecting and collaborating between teachers, parents and carers and early learning staff to aim to narrow the early gaps that appear in their learning. They need high-quality teaching and play-based learning.   High-quality early childhood education and care will benefit disadvantaged kids the most, by providing the basis for successful lifelong learning and by fostering their socio-emotional skills.

In addition the need for collaboration among staff at pre-school and primary must be based on reciprocal communication, inclusivity, mutual trust and respect. The SEAS wants more collaboration at this operational level rather than bureaucratic Regional Collaboratives and standardised testing at age 5.

The SEAS sees the need to invest in teachers too and redress the decline in Scottish teachers’ salaries that has occurred under the SNP.  According to OECD teachers’ salaries in Scotland  fell by 10% between 2010 and 2015, leaving our teachers the third worst off across twenty OECD counties.  The SEAS supports improvement in quality of staff and the transition to a qualified, graduate-led workforce, by increasing staff wages and enhancing training opportunities. This will benefit staff, who are among our worst-paid workers, and improve child development.

In his paper for the Jimmy Reid Foundation, Brian Boyd showed how schools could deliver transformational change and put equity at the heart of education

“Thus, investment in early years education, a re-evaluation of the age when formal learning is introduced and a commitment to a shared set of values, where every child is seen as having the potential to be a successful learner, would be a major step towards the achievement to a fairer, more equitable system of schooling.”

 

References

UNICEF report (2017) “Early Moments Matter for Every Child”

Labour Manifesto For the Many

Scottish Labour Manifesto Together we’re stronger

A Common Weal Education Brian Boyd Jimmy Reid foundation (2014)

Starting Stronger OECD report 2017

HMI Early Years report Quality Improvement in Scottish education (2016)