From the margins to mainstream: Enquire’s Annual Conference

Cat Thomson, Enquire’s Senior Development Officer reflects on the highlights and learning from our national conference.

_MG_5370The timing of Enquire’s 2017 annual conference was more significant than usual this year. With the planned review of the presumption of mainstream guidance taking place in the summer and elements of the Education Act 2016, including the extension of rights of children with additional support needs, due to come into force this year, our national event offered the perfect opportunity for delegates to explore some big questions. These focused on current inclusive practice in schools and the impact these forthcoming changes may make to children and young people’s learning experience.

Jan Savage kicked off proceedings with a thoughtprovoking update on progress made following Enable Scotland’s #Included in the Main campaign, investigating the reality of educational experiences for young people with learning disabilities. With more than 800 pupils, their parents and carers, and teaching professionals taking part, it provided an unprecedented insight into how inclusion feels on the ground.

Whilst the findings showed there is still a worrying number of young people who feel excluded from the classroom, the curriculum and from social and nonlearning activities, genuine progress is underway. As a direct result of Enable’s work, the Scottish Government has also committed to producing guidance for local authorities on delivering truly inclusive education – one of the 22 recommendations called for by the #Included in the Main campaign.

Our afternoon discussion session on the role of specialism in school in 2017 continued this discourse. Lisa McAuliffe, Senior Lecturer from West of Scotland University, highlighted the important role specialist teachers play in supporting learners, bringing in new ideas and applying them in practice. But Lisa suggested that more thought is needed as to where specialist teachers should be located and how specialist knowledge can be accessed by teaching staff. She believes that teachers in mainstream school need to be able to “beam out” for specialist support, suggesting that we must look at the expertise that is available locally and consider different ways of working, including pairing experienced specialist teachers with newly qualified probationers. Lisa also emphasised the importance of criticality when considering interventions, highlighting the need to consider the principles that underpin it, the evidence for its effectiveness, and its potential applicability to the context in which it will be used. Delegates and speakers agreed that high quality initial teacher education and career long professional learning with a stronger focus on additional support for learning is needed, again a recommendation reflected in the #Included in the Main report.

Megan Farr, Policy Officer for the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland offered a valuable insight into the issues raised with, and by, the Commissioner. Megan discussed the difficulty for some parents when specialist placements are refused on the grounds of cost. This in itself should not be the basis for a child being placed in mainstream provision. Megan highlighted that where mainstream provision is appropriate for a child it must be properly supported and resourced and that the lack of appropriate support can result in these placements becoming unsustainable.

Delegates and speakers together contemplated the importance of involving families actively in decisions about a child’s placement and support. There was a suggestion that in some areas there needs to be a change of culture in the relationship between parents, carers and schools. Sensitive communication and continuous reflection on how best to work pro-actively together lies at the heart of making progress in this area. In the words of Mary Glasgow from Children 1st, one of our workshop presenters, “All problems are relational. The solutions are relationships.”

Aqueel and markThe impact of honest and open communication was a message echoed by many of our speakers, not only in terms of working well with parents and carers, but also in listening to and understanding pupils’ needs. Mark Stewart, a Young Inclusion Ambassador, spoke eloquently about his own personal experience of inclusion and made the important point that: “Communication is the key to achieving true inclusion because without it everything you might be doing could be entirely irrelevant to the pupil. Without communication the entire structure of inclusion would fall apart, after all, how can you include someone who isn’t involved in the conversation?”

To download presentations from speakers visit our conference report page.

Read our Storify account of the day here.

This article featured in Children in Scotland April – May 2017 magazine

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