SEAS contribution to Labour’s Scottish Policy Forum

SPF

SEAS has been taking part in the Education Commission of the Scottish Labour Party’s Policy Forum as a volunteer member.  We recently submitted additional comment about the vision for our education service end comments on early learning and schools.  Our submission is reproduced below.

Socialist Educational Association Scotland is the only educational affiliate of the Scottish Labour Party.   In the past two years SEAS has been particularly active across the Labour Party.  We have proposed motions at Scottish Party conference.  We have met with MSPs, councillors and CLPs to discuss key issues in Scottish education.

We have successfully proposed two motions to Scottish conference.  In 2018 we proposed a contemporary motion on early learning and child care. In 2019 we proposed ending all state subsidies and support for private schooling. In 2019 motion 16 from East Lothian to end standardised national assessments at P1 was agreed by conference.  SEAS would like to see the terms of the Conference policy-making influence and feature prominently in the work of the Education Policy Forum.

Our vision and values

 We endorse the statement of our vision and values as “lifelong learning towards an inclusive society based on values of social justice and common decency”. SEAS believes that only the Scottish Labour Party aspires for social justice through education. 

Early learning and childcare

 We support party policy as set out in the contemporary motion agreed by conference in 2019 on early learning and child care  and the motion 15 in 2019 from East Lothian CLP on ending standardising testing in P1.  We support reviewing all of Curriculum for Excellence including early years to promote and ensure learning that is challenging and enjoyable, relevant and personalised. We do not support a discrete and distinctive Kindergarten stage. The OECD (2018) places a great importance on curriculum alignment to avoid the problem of piecemeal change.

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. All nurseries and early years centres  in disadvantaged areas should be led by qualified headteachers. 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. 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.

Policy proposals

  • Review Curriculum for Excellence to secure more play-based learning in early years.
  • Offer flexibility in starting ages
  • Invest in nurseries and early learning centres in disadvantaged areas

Schools

SEAS is supportive of reviewing Curriculum for Excellence to secure continued improvement in a curriculum that is focused on children and young people.

Similar to early years all learning across 3-18 should be challenging and enjoyable, relevant and personalised.  All children are entitled to a broad general education and a personalised Senior Phase.  Schools can be encouraged to offer a broader set of options in partnership with communities, businesses to deliver a broader extended senior phase.

Curriculum for Excellence should seek to embed education for sustainability as well as equality education.  Diversity needs to be valued as part of an inclusive curriculum.

Our schools need to be more inclusive too. Inclusive education has never yet been planned for resourced to ensure children’s rights to inclusive education are delivered. SEAS calls for repeal of Section 15 of 2000 Act and instead legislation brought to ensure those with disabilities and other differences are successfully included.  Such an approach needs to be planned for and resourced nationally, locally, in communities and across schools and classrooms.  Scotland can aspire to be world leading inclusive education.  Staff and resources in special schools can be shared and provide valuable support to inclusive education.  Special schools and centres should be redesigned to support placements in inclusive schools.

SEAS welcomes Scottish Labour Party’s policy on ending all support and subsidy direct and indirect to private schools. All private schools work in a supportive partnership with Education Scotland and every private school gets support from a linked HMI.  Private schools also receive supportive quality improvement visits rather than inspection report.

The SEAS is unconvinced by the mixed results from Scottish Attainment Fund.  SEAS is concerned at the fall in attendance in schools receiving additional money direct from Scottish Government. We oppose this centralised funding and call for distribution of resources to local councils. We would end the bureaucratic Regional Improvement Collaboratives.   Councils need to offer greater autonomy to schools and for them to be accountable for delivering a social justice agenda in education. They can  improve outcomes in disadvantage area, meeting the needs of disabled children and offering inclusive approaches for LGBTI young people too.

Policy proposals

  • Review Curriculum for Excellence
  • Broaden Senior Phase
  • Plan for and resource inclusive education
  • Embed equality education
  • End all state subsidy and indirect and direct support for private schools
  • Councils and local communities more accountable for social justice outcomes.

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)