“It feels very low to be left out”. “We need to be treated equally”. “I’d need to trust the people I’m asking for help”. Words of wisdom from a group of young people with diverse support needs campaigning for everyone to be included, no one left out.
“Having autism is unique – it’s not painful, or itchy, or sore – it’s just how I see the world”. Check out this Fixers film and hear a girl called Jenny on a campaign to end the stigma about having Aspergers and to show it’s no reason to stop believing in yourself….
Hello, I’m Mark, I’m a 17-year-old pupil at school in Cumbernauld and I’m the Inclusion Ambassador for North Lanarkshire.
I went to Luxembourg to represent Scotland in a Europe-wide inclusive education conference. When we were there I got a good idea of what was important for pupils all over Europe – the key message is “Everything about us, with us”. We want to be heard and we want to have a say in anything that has to do with us. We are the experts in our own needs and we know what works and what doesn’t.
This is not just a message for politicians. It is the teachers that make the immediate difference to how inclusive a school is.
Take my school – before I moved up to high school my year head met with my parents and me. We worked out barriers for me in and around the school, spoke with teachers in private to make sure they understood my needs and made a clear plan for every type of situation at school. This might all seem quite a bit of work for one pupil, yet this only took three meetings and it was all made so much easier because of the talking and listening that went on between me and the teacher.
Sadly, some pupils do not have such a good experience as me, which is why I’m pleased to be one of the Inclusion Ambassadors for Education Scotland. We are a national group of young people who act as a ‘voice’ for pupils on inclusion. We share our views and experiences with Scottish Government Ministers, local authorities and schools. We are hoping to develop resources, a school pledge and a film in the coming months.
Here are three of our top priorities to make schools more inclusive:
Social Problems: being excluded at break times and not having enough chances to be included and make friends are big issues. My school found a way around this by setting up a club where pupils could play computer games and socialise. This helped pupils who were often quiet to come out of their shell.
Issues with Support staff: For some pupils (but not all), having support staff can sometimes feel like a barrier to their social life, and they might not need them as they get older.
Awareness: We feel that there isn’t enough done by schools to raise awareness of the issues that pupils face or the reasons they need support. The worst thing schools can do is to pick out a specific pupil – that’s just everyone’s worst nightmare – but what schools can do is to educate the year group that other people have different needs and promote the fact that you are a diverse and inclusive school so it’s great to have all types of pupils.
For me, talking and listening are the key to true inclusion because without this everything you might be doing could be entirely irrelevant to the pupil. After all, how can you include someone who isn’t involved in the conversation?
Pupils with learning disabilities in Scotland have had their say about what school is like for them and whether they feel included. 116 young people with learning disabilities shared their experiences of school as a part of a campaign called Included in the Main?!run by Enable Scotland.
Here are some of the things they found out from the pupils that took part in the survey:
60% of the pupils said they feel lonely at school
only half of those asked feel like they are achieving their full potential at school
23% don’t get to go on school trips
more than half said they felt like they weren’t getting the right support at school.
Enable Scotland also asked teachers and families what they thought and, after looking at all the results, have come up with 22 steps they think will make things better at school for young people with learning disabilities. These steps include stuff like:
making sure teachers get the right training so they can get better at supporting pupils with disabilities and their families,
making sure schools teach all pupils about learning difficulties
helping schools get even better at identifying support needs early.
I attended the Friday morning service of Holy Communion at St George’s Cathedral Cape Town today. It was a beautiful peaceful reflective space, with young students visiting from two USA universities filling out the usual smallish crowd of worshipers. Archbishop Desmond Tutu presided as is usual on Friday mornings when he’s in Cape Town, helped by the Dean, Michael Weeder. Included in the prayers this morning were the LGBT community of America as they await the USA supreme court ruling on same sex marriage. Archbishop Tutu has long campaigned for equality and makes his points both on the world stage and quietly as a priest during the Friday dawn mass over which he presides. The Dean is also a supporter of equality, and it was he who offered the prayers today, following his sermon on Sunday which referred to the current issues in the Anglican Church over LGBT equality. I’m shamelessly including this photo of me with him as he’s one of my ultimate heroes. Thank you for the photo and the conversation, father Desmond:-)
Contrast this with the awful treatment two of our friends received at the hands of staff at the Polo Lounge in Glasgow recently. Nathan and Robert are both disabled, and it was this that was the cause of their troubles at the hands of the staff at this establishment, owned and run by Stephan King’s G1 entertainment company. Whilst Nathan was physically carried out of the club by a bouncer, Robert was left crawling about on the floor after having been refused entry due to his being disabled. Two police vans had been summoned by staff. You can read more about the incident here. A bit of a faux-pas for the meatheads on the Polo door as Nathan and Robert are probably two of the most visible and well connected members of the Scottish LGBT community. Nathan works for the Equality Network in fact. They are now considering action against the G1 group under the Equalities Act for discrimination on the grounds of disability. Good luck to them, and remember their story if you’re thinking of visiting the Polo for some of their usual indifferent service and overpriced drinks… Tweet them and tell them what you think about their discrimination (note to owners, it is more than possible to have a ramp up the steps in front of what used to be Cafe Moda which links through to the Polo…and toilets shouldn’t be a problem either…as I remember)
South Africa legislated for equality in its post Apartheid constitution. Scotland and the rest of the UK are following. Let’s hope G1 and the Polo stop dragging their knuckles across the ground and wake up to this….its called progress and social justice…