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

 

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