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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 28 March 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Independence Referendum, Decision Time, Included in the Main Campaign


Contents


Included in the Main Campaign

I thank everyone for leaving the chamber quietly.

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-04016, in the name of Graeme Dey, on the #IncludED in the Main?! campaign. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the campaign, Included in the Main?!, and the conclusion of a national conversation about the reality of educational experiences for children and young people who have learning disabilities, by ENABLE Scotland, which, it understands, is the largest voluntary organisation in the country for children and adults with learning disabilities and their families; notes that the national conversation looked at inclusive education and what it means for pupils who have learning disabilities; understands that the campaign has since engaged with over 800 young people, their parents and carers, and the education workforce, to talk about their experiences and consider what makes education truly inclusive; believes that the country has come a long way from when people with learning disabilities were viewed as “ineducable” but considers that inclusive education is still far from a reality for many and that this can have whole-life consequences; acknowledges that a report, 22 Steps on the Journey to Inclusion, has been published as a result of the national conversation, which makes 22 recommendations and acknowledges that inclusive education is not about school setting or placement, but rather that all children should receive an inclusive education in a setting that best meets their educational and developmental needs, and notes the view that it is time to talk about how to make that vision a reality in Angus South and across Scotland.

17:12  

I begin by acknowledging the cross-party support that the motion we are debating has attracted and my gratitude for that. The first seven signatures it secured were sufficient to ensure that every party represented in Parliament had backed it. That is clearly indicative of the fact that the subject matter transcends party-political allegiances. I hope that the tone and nature of the debate will reflect that. The issues covered in the Enable Scotland report, “#IncludED in the Main?!” are way too important to be the subject of point-scoring around service provision and its funding.

It is now 17 years since the presumption in favour of mainstreaming was enshrined in the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc Act 2000. That act was followed in 2004 by the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, in which it is stated:

“Every education authority must—

(a) in relation to each child and young person having additional support needs ... make adequate and efficient provision for such additional support as is required by that child or young person”

Tonight we consider Enable Scotland’s report “#IncludED in the Main?!”, which makes 22 recommendations to complete the journey to true inclusion—arguing that we are not there yet—in terms of catering for not just educational but emotional needs, and ensuring that there is sufficient support in place to ensure participation in all parts of school life. We debate against a backdrop of the Scottish Government reviewing the guidance on the presumption in favour of mainstreaming and of a ministerial team that has a genuine understanding of the subject and a commitment to getting it right for every child—every child.

Time constraints will prevent me from exploring the specifics of the recommendations. I hope that, between them, colleagues who are taking part tonight might be able to at least touch on some of them.

The “#IncludED in the Main?!” report draws on the full gamut of experience. It canvassed the views of children and young people, parents and carers and the education workforce. It is telling that 80 per cent of that last category indicated that the presumption that all could and should be taught in mainstream settings means that we are not taking account of getting it right for every child. That “we” is society, not national or local Government, but society.

I contend that it is not so much the principle of mainstreaming, but the way in which it is being interpreted and implemented that is at the root of the problem. There will always be a role for specialist schools catering for kids with the most complex needs, but we can cater for the majority of ASN children in the mainstream if the will and, yes, sufficient resource is there.

This is not an easy subject. There are some difficult aspects to it. One such aspect is the reality that medical advances mean that we have children with very complex needs being catered for in mainstream school settings, with all the impact that that has on resources and, indeed, on the support being afforded to other ASN youngsters.

Another aspect is the massive spike in kids being identified as having additional support needs, which is a good thing on one level, but brings with it an accompanying resource issue.

I should acknowledge that I come to this subject as the husband of an ASN assistant. However, more than anything, my interest is driven by my experience as a constituency MSP dealing with casework. We have come a long way since 2000—there is no doubt about that—but on the ground, there is a lack of consistency in approach and resourcing.

In relation to the former, I was speaking recently to a headteacher who had decided to externally review the ASN provision within his school, which has a good reputation in that regard. His school sits in a local authority which has no special school available to cater for children with very complex needs. It buys in a small number of places annually from a facility in a neighbouring council area.

One of the external reviewers heads up a special needs school elsewhere in Scotland. The headteacher was taken aback to discover that the reviewer had at her disposal 14 teaching and 51 support staff to cater for a roll of 56 children. The special needs school had a resourcing level that was way beyond what he had at his disposal, and it was one of three such schools in that local authority.

There has to be a place for such specialist schools, to cater for kids with the most complex needs, not least because that frees up resource to support those bairns who, right now, are falling through the cracks—youngsters whose attainment levels and sense of self-worth could, with just a little help and support, be raised.

We tend, when we talk about closing the attainment gap, to link the problem to poverty but, as this report states, the attainment gap does not start and end on that point. Young folk with learning disabilities experience many other barriers to achieving their potential. Albeit in a different context, the First Minister acknowledged that last week in announcing a £2 million fund to improve access to nursery for children with ASN. In closing, could the minister outline whether and to what extent the guidance that is offered to headteachers on deploying the additional funding given to them directly to tackle attainment challenges references ASN pupils?

Of all the experiences that I have had as an MSP these past six years, there is one more than any other that has stuck with me. A couple of years back I met a young lad—a young carer—whose brother suffers from a rare disease. I could only begin to imagine what life at home must be like for him, with a younger sibling demanding not just his parents’ attention, but his. Then he explained to me that he suffered from dyslexia and was struggling to achieve his potential at school because the support that was meant to be in place for him was not being provided. He was meant to have time in the learning support base for one-to-one support to cope with school work but he told me, “There’s a girl in the base who behaves really badly and the staff are always dealing with her, so I don’t get the help I need.” There he was, with his home life as it was, and he was being let down in the educational setting—and he readily recognised the detrimental impact of that lack of support at school.

Much more recently, just a few weeks ago, I met a mum whose teenage daughter, who has complex needs, has been unable to attend the local secondary school base for some months. Ahead of an effort to try to reintegrate her, the mum was invited to visit the newly refurbished base facilities, which she had been told would be an asset in catering for the girl, who is, among other things, autistic. However, the decor’s colour scheme was not autism friendly. The sensory room was tiny and the soundproofing was so inadequate that, sitting in it, she could hear the kids passing in the adjoining corridor. Those are simple, basic things.

That parent’s experience is typical of the experience that is identified in the report. When parents and carers were asked to describe their experience of the school system, 67 per cent used the word “battle”, 77 per cent used the word “stressful” and 44 per cent used the word “alone”. When asked if the support that was provided was enough to secure their child’s participation in all aspects of school life, less than 12 per cent of parents and carers felt that it was. Even allowing for the fact that a proportion of parents—let us face it—have unreasonable expectations about what should be available, that is still a concerning number. Of course, we are not just talking about strictly educational matters, it is also about mental wellbeing, and 60 per cent of the kids with learning difficulties who were interviewed said that they felt lonely at school.

Presiding Officer, can I, having already declared an interest, give a shout out to those hard-pressed ASN staff in our mainstream schools who are having to contend with increasing demands—not just numerically, but in terms of the range of conditions—in catering for children and young people with incredibly complex needs through to those bairns like the young lad I mentioned earlier who just need that little bit of support? The staff do a remarkable job and we should take this opportunity to acknowledge that. Time and again, I hear parents of ASN children drawing a distinction between criticising the support for their kids and those who seek to provide it.

I will conclude and allow colleagues to contribute to the debate. The “#IncludED in the Main?!” report sums the situation up rather well when it says that the policy of mainstreaming

“has undoubtedly been a positive step towards equality”

and

“creating a more inclusive society”

but now we need

“to ensure that this policy is supporting children who have learning disabilities to be properly supported and fully #IncludED at their school”

because only then

“will … our societal aspiration for full inclusion be realised.”

17:20  

It is a pleasure to speak in a debate such as this in which we can agree on the broad thrust of what we need to achieve and why we need to achieve it. Indeed, discussing additional support needs exemplifies some of the strengths that we have in Scotland. We have a broad definition of additional support needs. That creates a challenge but it also represents the way that we try to approach education holistically and in a child-centred way that seeks to include and focus on what every child needs to learn.

A recent visit that I made to one of my local primary schools brought out how that approach can be brought to life and made to work. As I was led through the Victorian primary school, I was led past a stairwell where there was a fantastic canopy. It was a big, black bit of cloth with things dangling down underneath. There was a wee boy in there. It was the space that he liked to go to because of his particular needs. He needed that quiet, special space where it was just him and where he could settle his thoughts and get his head together for learning. A classroom assistant was with him to help him with what he needed to do.

I also learned from the headteacher about the training that they put in place in that school—from the local authority and externally sourced—and the groups of teachers that work on additional support needs. That brought to life how inclusion is meant to work and can work when it is done properly.

I thank Graeme Dey for bringing the motion to the Parliament. It is important that we talk about the matter. I also thank Enable because, although it is good to talk about how inclusion works, we also need to talk about where we need to improve the situation and the available resources. We need to talk about three key things: the support and training that are available to practising teachers and in teacher training before they qualify; the support staff that are required—in particular, the specialist staff—and how we embed ASN into the curriculum and classroom experience more widely.

That dovetails neatly and closely with some of the issues that we have been discussing in the Education and Skills Committee. We have been considering additional support needs in particular and recently had a round-table session on that. The experts on additional support needs at that meeting raised some concerns. They described access to training as being patchy. They discussed training sometimes being available to teachers only through cascade training, in which one teacher receives training and then passes it on to others. They also said that, because of the many changes that we have had in the curriculum and in qualifications, some of the training and support that is required to address additional support needs has been squeezed out. There was a concerning observation that specialist postgraduate additional support needs training had declined.

Some of those concerns are borne out in the briefing that Enable has provided, which tells us that only 12 per cent of teachers say that they can meet the educational and development needs of the pupils. There are also teacher stories of training and not having the support that they need to develop the personal learning plans that they need to do.

We also need to talk about support and specialist staff. The Enable report makes it clear that, although there is a massive increase in the number of children being identified as having additional support needs—that is something to be celebrated—there is a decline in specialist additional support needs teachers. The teachers who are left are an ageing population. The Government needs to focus on that and prioritise it, because we need specialist teachers. Although classroom assistants are important in developing personalised learning, they are not a substitute for specialist additional support needs teachers.

I could carry on for a great deal longer, but I see that the clock has ticked past four minutes, so I will sit down. I thank Graeme Dey once again for bringing the debate to the chamber.

17:24  

I thank Graeme Dey for bringing the debate to the chamber this afternoon. I also thank Enable for its report. Based on interviews with more than 800 young people with learning disabilities, and interviews with parents, family carers and educationists across Scotland, it gives us a full picture of what is going on.

I start by saying that civic society and educationists in Scotland have come a long way over the past 30 or 40 years. By and large, mainstreaming is a positive thing. The type of language that we use about people with special needs and their requirements has definitely improved. However, the report is also a wake-up call for us, because it shows that many young people in Scotland today are not getting what they require.

With regard to my physical disability, I recall a comment that my mother made to someone else who had a disability: “Never take no for an answer.” I fear that it is still the case today that parents have to keep asking local authorities and headteachers for things that should come to them automatically. That is fine for articulate and pushy people like my mother, but it is less fine for people who do not have those skills.

I want to comment briefly on two issues on which Parliament and this country need to make progress. First, the child being in a classroom does not mean that he or she is part of the school—the fact that they are there physically does not mean that they are part of the whole experience. The report makes it clear that children with additional needs often feel excluded and lonely and may not get the same opportunities as their peers. No child should be excluded.

The report tells us that 49 per cent of young people with a learning disability or autism felt that they have not been able to reach their full potential at school, and more than a quarter said that they cannot take part in games or sport. Nearly a quarter do not go on trips with their peers and, furthermore, nearly half—46 per cent—said that they do not take part in activities in the playground or elsewhere. I accept that the situation will vary from school to school and from area to area; however, I think that the challenge for all of us is to improve that situation.

I want to give credit to the additional support needs teachers we have for the hard work that they do day in and day out. However, there is a challenge for our local authorities. We have seen numbers of auxiliaries and support staff dropping across Scotland. I think that it is unfair to ask a teacher to look after 30 or so children without such help if that class contains children who have additional support needs.

We also have to acknowledge that mainstreaming is not right for every child. Getting it right for every child means considering every child and the situation that they are in at the time. Again, it slightly concerns me that, over past years, the number of special schools has fallen—there was a 25 per cent drop in the number of special schools between 2008 and 2015. For the majority of children, mainstreaming is the way forward, but that is not true in every case.

I welcome the debate. There is a challenge for all of us across Scotland. We are making progress, and we need to keep moving in that direction.

17:29  

I thank Graeme Dey for securing this debate to welcome the #IncludED in the Main?! campaign and to raise awareness of, and stimulate conversation about, children and young people with learning disabilities. I also want to recognise the work of Enable Scotland, which is a charitable organisation whose aim is to fight discrimination against young people who struggle with disabilities, and the inequality that they experience.

The Scottish Government is committed to delivering excellence and equality in Scottish education, especially to the many young people who have learning disabilities and are often unfairly excluded by friends and peers, and from the classrooms, opportunities and experiences that make up such a big part of childhood and school life. The delivery plan for Scottish education is committed to closing the attainment gap, to ensuring that we have a curriculum and to empowering our teachers, schools and communities for children and young people.

Children and young people’s education experience should open the doors to opportunities that enable children to become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors to society. That includes children and young people who struggle with disabilities. However, inclusive education is still far from being a reality for many young people and children who are struggling.

Enable Scotland held a national conversation about the experiences of young people with learning disabilities. It received more than 800 responses over seven months from people across Scotland. Of the respondents, 60 per cent said that they felt lonely at school, only 49 per cent felt that they were achieving their full potential and 80 per cent of the education workforce believed that we are not getting it right for every child. As a result of those figures, the Scottish Government and Enable Scotland now work more closely together to revisit some of the policies on inclusive education. Enable has come up with 22 detailed recommendations on how to improve the lives of children with learning disabilities.

#IncludED in the Main?! set out to listen: it is now our turn to act. An initiative that welcomes inclusive education involves an array of complex partnerships and dialogues; students, parents, carers and teachers are all involved in creating supportive networks. The solutions and tactics should reflect the diversity of the set of actors who are involved, while creating support for individualised needs, in order to facilitate equal opportunities to participate in society.

The movement towards inclusion has spread to large-scale government. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child abolished segregated education that denies children with disabilities the right to be part of mainstream schooling. Even though that international recognition is a significant move in the right direction, Scotland will benefit from localised efforts to provide unique opportunities to place inclusive education firmly on the political agenda.

Fife Council, for example, aims to support children’s needs for additional support by working closely with their families. Fife Council’s priority is for all children to attend their local school and to be successful there, and not to isolate children from their peers. In my constituency of Kirkcaldy, the approach of the new Windmill community campus embodies such inclusion. Integrated into that campus—alongside Viewforth high school, council offices, community-use sport facilities and a public library—is Rosslyn school, which is a state-of-the-art facility that caters for children and young adults aged between 3 and 18 who have complex additional support needs.

The importance of collaborative teaching strategies cannot be overstated. In recognition of that, the Rosslyn school staff work closely with their mainstream colleagues. They do that not only to ensure access and achievement for all, but to enhance the opportunities for all pupils to develop and learn together.

In addition, every school in Fife has a learning support teacher who advises the class teacher on how best to assist children and young people who have additional support needs. The more choices, more chances agenda aims to increase the number of young people above the age of 16 in education, employment or training by encouraging and valuing informal learning in order to help to develop social and employability skills. In addition, active schools co-ordinators offer all children and young people the opportunities and motivation to adopt active healthy lifestyles, now and into adulthood. Such services are also extended to further education; for example, Fife College’s equality, diversity and inclusion team aims to develop skills, confidence, motivation, independence and expertise. Each Fife College campus provides one-to-one support.

Inclusion is an on-going process: it is not a fixed state. Wherever learning takes place, all children deserve to be educated together, despite barriers and requirements for additional support. In conclusion, Presiding Officer, I say that I believe that our country values our diverse communities. It is important to promote inclusive learning and education, because communities are formed at school, where young people learn, play and grow together, and learn to live alongside each other.

17:34  

I declare an interest as a councillor and as a father of a child with additional support needs. I thank Graeme Dey for bringing forward this motion for debate here tonight and Enable Scotland, which does fantastic work around the country. I was privileged to attend one of its support focus groups for young people in Stirling several months ago, where I learned about the challenges and barriers that they face in their everyday lives. Thank you for that experience. I learned so much.

Since the early 2000s, all Scottish schools have had a presumption to mainstream, which is a key part of ensuring that education is inclusive and a step towards ensuring that our society is inclusive for people with disabilities.

The law has changed in response to demands and campaigns that have been led by people with disabilities. Their aim is to secure a more equal and inclusive society for us all. However, although the law has changed, it is clear that many barriers remain. There is a presumption to mainstream, but many schools do not always have the resources that they require to meet additional needs, and teachers do not always have access to adequate training on how to teach pupils with a wide spectrum of learning disabilities.

Since 2010, the number of pupils identified with a learning disability has risen by more than a quarter, but over the same period, the number of specialist teachers has declined by one in seven, and the number of specialist assistants has declined by one in 11. We have estimated that it will cost £31 million just to return the numbers of specialist teachers and support staff to their 2010 levels.

Councils have faced years of austerity, which has put intense pressure on wider education budgets that have not been ring fenced. The Scottish Government’s latest response—the pupil equity fund—directs resources towards schools in areas of higher deprivation. Although that is much needed and welcome, it does not adequately address learning disabilities and additional support needs. While councils work their way through budget savings, it is hugely important that front-line services are protected, which is why in the budget this year the group of Greens prioritised additional un-ring-fenced funding to enable councils to take the most damaging proposed cuts to education off the table.

Although schools need the resources to hire more specialist teachers, we also need to ensure that all teachers have appropriate training on additional support needs. Enable Scotland found that 98 per cent of the education workforce does not feel that teacher training adequately prepares them to teach pupils with learning disabilities. It is little wonder that so many pupils feel excluded.

Initial teacher training already sees new teachers take on a huge workload. Often that training is in the form of one-year professional graduate diplomas in education, which can be crammed with university classes and placements. As Enable Scotland highlighted, often not enough time is left for adequate training on additional support needs. Such training is often dependent on whether the teachers who are handling a placement have themselves taught pupils with learning disabilities.

In addition, Enable Scotland highlighted that access to continuing career development can vary significantly from one local authority to another. In fact, just a few weeks ago, the Education and Skills Committee heard that one teacher was told to watch “The Big Bang Theory” to learn about Asperger’s syndrome.

We need the mainstreaming of additional support needs in teacher training. All teachers need both the initial training and access to high-quality further training to ensure that we are meeting the educational needs of pupils with learning disabilities and other additional support needs. The Scottish Government needs to take clear action to ensure that our schools are inclusive, and we are open to working with it to make inclusive education a reality.

17:37  

I am very happy to contribute to this important debate, and I congratulate Graeme Dey on securing the debate and affording us the opportunity to explore some of the issues that are important and challenging for families across Scotland. I congratulate Enable Scotland on its important work on supporting people with learning disabilities, and I recognise the work that it has done over many years, alongside other organisations, to challenge attitudes to learning disabilities and insist that services meet the needs of people with learning disabilities as much as they meet the needs of the mainstream community.

This country witnessed a social revolution in the past generation, in which we opened up the long-stay hospitals and ensured that people were defined by their abilities, including their ability to achieve their potential, rather than by a presumption of what they could not do because they had a learning disability. We should all celebrate that social revolution, and we should recognise the importance of proper support for people in our communities, to ensure that they can achieve that potential.

I also congratulate Enable Scotland on its important report, which draws directly on the experiences of young people with learning disabilities and shows the gap between the policy that we all endorse and the reality for too many young people. The idea that a youngster in school can describe themselves as lonely and unable to participate in trips and so on must come as a reality check for us all, and it must give us pause.

The presumption for mainstreaming was a hard-fought-for policy, which I remember well as someone who was in the Parliament in the early days. It was fought for by parents who argued for the importance of an inclusive society in meeting the needs of not only their young people with learning disabilities and other disabilities, but all young people. By ensuring that we live in an inclusive community, all of us can learn, but that needs to be followed through.

Mainstream education is not always the right thing for a young person and we hear, anecdotally, of some families who believe that their young person has been placed in mainstream education, despite it being guaranteed that they will fail, before they are moved on to specialist provision. By that time, they are already damaged and affected by that, so there must be proper assessment of young people’s needs.

Without proper support, there is a danger that a mainstream community turns on a child with a disability as if they were the one with the problem and as if everything would be okay if it were not for the fact that children with additional support needs were in the classroom. That is a real danger and it must be resisted at all costs, because an inclusive education benefits all young people.

I recommend that members read the evidence that was taken by the Education and Skills Committee on the challenges that young people with additional support needs face and on the provision for them. Additional support is not an added extra; it is central to ensuring that people achieve their potential in education, and it cannot just be explained away or wished away. It is in the fabric of our education system and, if it is not happening, that needs to be challenged.

It is not enough to say that we care about this issue; we must ensure that budgets follow the policy. There is a consequence to cuts being targeted on local authorities and I ask the minister to respond on that point. We know from the evidence that the committee has taken that cuts to local authority budgets have not meant a reduction in the amount of classroom support and additional support that a school needs to make sure that all young people achieve their potential.

I welcome the report, which is a challenge for us all. In the minister’s response, I will look for a commitment from the Scottish Government to respond in detail to the recommendations of the Enable report, because they give a very important direction to the work that we should be doing over the next period.

17:42  

I echo members in congratulating Graeme Dey on securing a debate in Parliament on his motion.

It is important that we note the great work by teachers that is already going on throughout our schools. We must recognise that this is a debate based around how the Scottish Government must support our teachers and allow them to deliver the best inclusive education to everyone.

I welcome the aims of Enable Scotland and its wish to deliver inclusive education. Its 22-step journey is admirable and I support its aims full-heartedly. There have been many good points raised in the debate and, although I agree with them, I am keen not to spend time repeating them.

It is simply not good enough that 80 per cent of the education workforce think that we are not getting it right for every child. I would like to look at how we can fix that statistic and stop failing children who are less fortunate than our own. When faced with such statistics, it is helpful to look around and see where others have got it right and how we might replicate that.

It is always difficult in such a consensual debate not to be repetitive, but I hope that members will be happy to follow me in looking beyond the classroom. The Cairngorms national park, in my constituency, has managed to successfully integrate additional needs groups into the park and we should all be able to learn from that. The national park has some of the most rugged terrain in Britain, which would usually mean no access to those in wheelchairs or unable to walk, and that would be further exclusion for those who are already disadvantaged. However, that is not the case as, over the past 10 years, the Cairngorms national park has invested £7.5 million to improve pathways across the park for those less fortunate. That includes 666 miles of designated core paths that have been made fit for purpose for all.

The park also offers a travel grant to underrepresented groups. The grants were fully subscribed in 2015 and 2016, and they were given to 28 schools and 15 voluntary groups. In addition, the park runs the backbone project, which engages over 2,500 people from marginalised groups through community engagement initiatives. The initiatives include the festival for all that will take place on the Atholl estate on 24 September, if any MSPs are interested in attending.

All those great projects are part of a much larger Cairngorms equality action plan, in which specific targets are made for inclusion in each section of the park. That results in a space where children with additional needs not only feel welcome but are able to participate just like everyone else in a place where they can interact and make friends. We must find a way to transfer the results from the national park into our schools. Unfortunately, the mountains that we must climb are not in the Cairngorms but in our schools.

17:45  

I join others in thanking Graeme Dey for bringing this debate to the chamber, and I pay tribute to Enable Scotland for its report, “#IncludED in the Main?!”, and for all the work that it does to advance the rights of people with learning disabilities. As many members may know, I am proud to convene the cross-party group on learning disability. Some members of the group are in the chamber this evening, because we had a cross-party group meeting at lunch time and—surprise, surprise—we talked about the issues thrown up by the report.

The report is a national conversation about life at school. There is no doubt that education has improved considerably, but the interesting thing is that it is 17 years since the presumption to mainstream young people with learning disabilities in education, so we have seen a whole generation go through every stage of education, and the report, reflecting as it does on their lived experience and that of their parents, carers and teachers, is valuable. What their stories and experience tell us, however, is that there is much more to do. For too many young people in our country, inclusive education is still not a reality. Many are still being excluded from classrooms and from opportunities that would enrich their everyday lives. Enable Scotland’s report sets out 22 steps that we can take to make inclusion in education the standard for all Scotland’s young people, but I want to focus on a couple of areas.

The need for specialist staff was touched on by Daniel Johnson. The research that has been undertaken shows us that 98 per cent of teachers feel that they are not adequately prepared, and 86 per cent of classroom teachers said that there is not enough additional support for learning staff in their schools to support young people with learning disabilities. As we have heard from other members, 80 per cent of education staff say that we are not getting it right for every child.

I assure Graeme Dey that I am not saying this to score party-political points, but cuts to education budgets are having an impact. I have had many cases of parents and teachers complaining about the lack of support in the classroom, which has an impact on their children. I urge the Scottish Government to consider all the recommendations, particularly the ones concerning the education workforce, and to make that central to work going forward. I note Enable Scotland’s call for renewed investment in the role of additional support for learning teachers, and I hope that that will be supported, because it would ensure that that specialist resource is regularly available to all education staff.

I welcome John Swinney’s commitment to guidance on inclusive education. That is critically important. I want inclusive education embedded into every part of the curriculum, and I want us to ensure that the specialist teaching resource is in place to support that too.

Having training and employment for specialist support teachers matters. That will benefit not only the pupils who rely on that kind of support at school but the teachers and education staff who are routinely put under pressure at work, many of them feeling stressed and anxious due to not having the right support to meet the needs of children and young people with learning disabilities.

The need for additional support for learning teachers was highlighted by people in my constituency as part of Enable Scotland’s national conversation, and I want to draw attention to two particular responses, one from a parent in West Dunbartonshire and the other from a teacher in Argyll and Bute. Both stated that they did not believe that proper support for children and young people with learning disabilities was in place. The teacher highlighted that, in Argyll and Bute, all the training for additional support needs had been organised privately and that the local authority had provided no support whatsoever. That clearly is not good enough.

We can do better. We must do better. We owe it to future generations of young people with learning disabilities to make it better. A good start would be for the Government to implement the recommendations in the report.

17:49  

I thank Graeme Dey for securing the debate, and I thank all the members who have participated in it.

Many members have touched on the fact that the ethos of Scottish education is one of inclusion. Inclusion is the cornerstone to help us to achieve excellence and equity in education for all our children and young people. Scotland has one of the most inclusive systems in Europe for the provision of support in schools. We are proud of that approach and, as Mr Dey’s motion notes, we firmly reject the idea that any child is unable to be educated.

As Jeremy Balfour said, when Enable Scotland was founded 62 years ago, children with learning disabilities did not have an equitable, inclusive experience in education—in fact, it was a challenge for them to receive any education at all. Now, 95 per cent of Scotland’s children and young people who have an additional support need are educated in a mainstream school. While being ambitious for the future, it is important to recognise just how far we have come.

The introduction in 2000 of the presumption of mainstreaming gave all children and young people in Scotland the opportunity to be present in a mainstream school. It is important that we build on that to ensure that those with additional support needs are not just present, but are participating and achieving as part of the school community.

Our educationists strive to overcome barriers to learning for all and to ensure that Scotland’s children and young people can achieve their full potential. The most recent statistics indicate that there is an improving picture on the qualifications and destinations of children and young people with additional support needs, but despite the progress that has been made, the Government is aware that there is much room for improvement.

Enable Scotland’s report “#IncludED in the Main?!” has been an invaluable source of information on the experience of educationists, parents and carers and, perhaps most importantly, the children and young people themselves.

The Scottish Government works closely with Enable Scotland. Jan Savage of Enable Scotland chairs our advisory group on additional support for learning, and Enable is a member of the disabled children and young people advisory group. The organisation is a committed advocate for all with learning disabilities in Scotland. I am clear, as is the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, that where pupils can learn in a mainstream school, they should do so. However, our law on mainstreaming has clear exceptions to enable children and young people to learn through the education provision that best suits their needs. That is in accordance with the duty of education authorities to provide for the needs of each child under the additional support for learning legislation. It also relates to our wider policy of getting it right for every child and ensuring that we tailor our approach to help each and every child to reach their full potential.

The presumption of mainstreaming has ensured that all children and young people have the right to be present in a mainstream school. As I said, the challenge now is to ensure that they participate and achieve in all aspects of school life. Jeremy Balfour spoke powerfully about that. In that regard, we are starting from a position of strength. We have enshrined the rights of children and young people in legislation, ensuring that they are entitled to receive the support that they need to succeed. In policy, we have put the needs of each and every child and young person at the heart of our approach, and that has led to a commitment to get it right for every child.

Curriculum for excellence is a flexible and adaptive curriculum that allows the needs of every child and young person to be catered for. To help headteachers to consider how to close the attainment gap in the wider context of disadvantage, we are currently finalising national operational guidance that will support headteachers to implement the pupil equity fund; I hope that that addresses the point that Graeme Dey made.

What we now need is clarity on our vision for inclusion and how that vision can be implemented. On 19 May, we will launch a public consultation on fresh guidance on the presumption of mainstreaming. That guidance will assist educationists in making difficult decisions about provision, and it will empower parents to know their rights, and the rights of their child, with regard to placement decisions. It will set out our vision for inclusion in Scotland’s schools and will embolden all actors in our education system to be ambitious for each and every child and young person in Scotland.

Some aspects of the discussion will be difficult. As the Enable Scotland report demonstrates, we are not discussing abstract concepts; we are working to improve the wellbeing and the future of individual children and young people, their families and those who provide the education.

This is an emotional debate, and rightly so because there is surely nothing more important than the start that we give our children and young people. One major theme of the Enable report is visibility and accountability, especially as regards how we accept and value difference and how we appreciate and support those who face barriers to learning. This is not just a system issue or a resource issue but a challenge to each and every one of us to examine and challenge our attitudes towards those with additional support needs.

I absolutely agree with the minister that it is not just a budget or resource issue and is about attitudes. That is why there has been such a powerful campaign over many years to secure mainstream and inclusive education for those with additional support needs. However, does the minister accept that resources matter and that the evidence that has been given to the Education and Skills Committee is that we are losing the classroom support, the personal support and the things that make a difference to young people in accessing opportunities in education?

I do not disagree with Johann Lamont that resources are an issue. I acknowledge that the Scottish Government will look at the Enable report and its recommendations, but I hope that every council will do that, too, because we all have to be responsible for our budgeting decisions. That applies not only to the Scottish Government but to every council that takes budgeting decisions on staffing in the education system.

We also need to remember that we should not expect, and certainly should not be content with, less for our children and young people with additional support needs. That is why accepting and appreciating difference is a crucial lesson for us all to learn, and it is one that we hope our children and young people are now learning in our inclusive education system in Scotland. Just as all of us in the chamber are different—and we are stronger for that—so too are our children and young people. Our diversity is our strength, and growing together, learning together and working together will help us build a more just society. David Torrance put that very well when he talked about communities being built in our schools, and Johann Lamont made the same point.

The debate has been an important opportunity to reflect again on how we can ensure excellence and equity for all our children and young people in Scotland. The voices of children and young people will be our best guide as we take this work forward. The most important thing for the Scottish Government to do is to listen. We will listen to the comments in the Enable report from respondents, and we will carefully consider each of Enable’s recommendations. However, we will not be afraid to champion the progress that we have achieved and use it as inspiration for improvement, where we need to improve. The Scottish Government will be a tireless advocate for all Scotland’s children and young people and, working alongside partners such as Enable, we will continue to strive for the best possible future for each and every child and young person in Scotland.

I close, as others have done during the debate, by paying tribute to the teachers, the learning support teachers and the support staff who play such a valuable and integral role day in and day out in every school across Scotland.

Meeting closed at 17:57.