Artemi Sakellariadis portrait

Written by Artemi Sakellariadis

(she, her) Director, Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (CSIE)

Introduction:

Artemi Sakellariadis’ contribution to Diverse Educators: A Manifesto is a detailed look at disability in education, drawn from her substantial experience in working with CSIE. In her sub-chapter, she cited guidance from CSIE that was edited for brevity. Following discussions with Artemi, we have decided to publish the original version of the text, with the edits removed, to ensure that the full meaning of the guidance is clear and evident. 

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” Albert Einstein

This chapter is a call to transform schools on the grounds of human rights.  It invites us to reflect on how we treat disabled people and explores:

  • inconsistencies in the implementation of law and policy
  • established practices which are incompatible with disabled children’s rights
  • perceptions of disability and the impact of stereotypes on children’s life chances.

National laws

The Human Rights Act 1998 brings the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law and asserts people’s fundamental rights and freedoms.  It lists 16 basic rights, including the right to an effective education, and specifies that all rights must be secured without discrimination.

The Equality Act 2010 protects people from unfair treatment with regard to nine protected characteristics, including disability.  It also places a duty on all public service providers, including schools, to make reasonable adjustments in response to people’s impairments, for equality of opportunity (UK Government 2010). This is an anticipatory duty: organisations must not wait until a disabled person arrives, before transforming their cultures, policies and practices.  The aim is to ensure no disabled person misses out or is disadvantaged.

Part III of the Children and Families Act 2014 concerns the education of children and young people identified as having special educational needs or disabilities (SEND).  It confirms every child’s right to a mainstream education, as long as this is consistent with their parents’ wishes, the efficient education of other children, the efficient use of resources, and that the education offered is appropriate to the child’s needs.  The last three conditions are often cited as reasons why a child cannot be included in a particular school, even though these issues largely depend on the way teaching and learning are organised in school.

The SEND Code of Practice explicitly states in paragraph 1.26 that the UK Government is committed to inclusive education and that the law presumes that all children and young people will be educated in a mainstream school (Department of Education and Department of Health, 2015, p. 25, emphasis added).

International laws

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990) protects all children (0 – 18) from discrimination (Article 2) and states that all decisions should be in the child’s best interests (Article 3), aiming for the child’s optimal development (Article 6) and taking into consideration the views of the child (Article 12).  Article 23 confirms that disabled children have all rights in the Convention and Articles 28 & 29 that every child has a right to an education which develops their personality, talents and abilities fully.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has issued a number of General Comments (documents clarifying the meaning of the Convention).  General Comment no. 9 (2006, on the rights of disabled children) states that disabled children are still facing barriers to the full enjoyment of their rights, that the barrier is not the disability but a combination of social, cultural, attitudinal and physical obstacles which disabled children encounter, and that “inclusive education should be the goal”.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008) states that all disabled children and young people should participate in the state education system and that this should be “an inclusive education system at all levels”.  General Comment no. 4 (2016) clarifies that inclusion necessitates ‘systemic reform’ involving changes in content, methods, approaches, structures and strategies in education, so that all pupils can have an equitable and participatory learning experience.

Putting laws into practice

It follows from all the above that the legal imperative for including disabled children in ordinary schools is clear and undeniable.  To achieve this, it is essential that examples of effective inclusion are shared widely and that educators are better prepared and better supported to work with disabled pupils.

At school children learn more about themselves and others, develop their sense of identity and belonging, and can make life-long friends.  All children should have these opportunities together, and learn from and about one another.

Some people argue that disabled children should not be included in local schools because teachers may not have the training, experience or time to respond to their needs.  Initial teacher education and continued professional development can, indeed, be improved, as can practical support to make inclusion effective.  As for evaluating what time is considered well spent and what not, we may need to pay closer attention to who is valued and on what grounds.

Judith Snow, Canadian Disability Rights Advocate, describes (2001, pp. 53-54) her experience of having a classmate who was an Olympic diver.  She lists the support offered when this other girl had to miss school for training or competitions, and compares it to her own experience of missing school for medical appointments. She concludes that adults seemed to find it exciting to support an Olympic diver to achieve in sport, and a burden to support a disabled child to attend their local school.

Recent evidence suggests a twofold benefit of supporting disabled children’s learning and development in ordinary schools: it leads to improved educational outcomes for disabled and non-disabled children, and better supports the social and emotional development of every child (Hehir et al, 2016).

In England the picture is patchy. Latest figures show an almost tenfold difference between the local authorities which send the highest and the lowest proportions of children to special schools (Black and Norwich 2019).

There is much that schools, other settings, or individual educators can do to honour disabled people’s rights and help align education practice with education law.  If nothing else, it helps to make disability visible, treat it as an ordinary part of life and ensure our language and interactions reflect this.  Here are some suggestions from CSIE’s equality toolkit (2016) and online Knowledge Box (2020):

  • Ensure disabled people are represented in positive ways in the curriculum, displays, books and other resources.
  • Maintain a positive attitude and ask “How can we …?” (rather than “Can we …?”).
  • Ask for the support that you need to make inclusion effective.
  • Ensure that disablist bullying and any indication of prejudice or harassment are consistently challenged.
  • Help disabled children get a stronger sense of belonging in school.
  • Ensure disabled people are treated in ways which confirm they are valued and respected.

Conclusion

A widespread assumption that separate special schools are usually preferable is out of sync with the law, and inconsistent with contemporary values of disability equality and human rights. This chapter invites readers to contribute to the long-overdue transformation by becoming agents of change in their own setting or sphere of influence.

Key Takeaways

  • National and international laws call for a transformation in education, so that disabled children can be routinely included in ordinary schools.
  • There are likely to be more similarities than differences between any two people. We must not let one striking difference overshadow many similarities.
  • We are all of equal value, by virtue of being human, and should all know not to judge a book by its cover.

Key Questions

  • On what grounds is it acceptable to exclude disabled children from their local community?
  • If we do not question the futility of stereotypes about beauty or intelligence, where does that leave those of us who do not have what society values?
  • Are you, or your school, working in ways which breach disabled children’s rights?

Manifesto Statement

Education practices need to be brought in line with education law as a matter of urgency. This is a call to action to challenge inequitable practices and develop more inclusive settings.

References

Black A and Norwich B (2019) Contrasting Responses to Diversity: School Placement Trends 2014–2017 for all Local Authorities in England. Available at: www.csie.org.uk/resources/free.shtml#trends2019 (accessed April 2021).

Children and Families Act (2014) Available at: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2014/6/contents/enacted (Accessed April 2021).

Committee on the Rights of the Child (2006) CRC/C/GC/9 General Comment no. 9 (2006) The rights of children with disabilities.  Available at: http://www.csie.org.uk/inclusion/GeneralComment9_Sept2006.pdf (accessed April 2021).

Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2016) CRPD/C/GC/4 General Comment no. 4 (2016) on the right to inclusive education. Available at: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRPD/C/GC/4&Lang=en  (accessed April 2021).

CSIE staff and associates (2016) Equality: Making It Happen – A Guide to Help Schools Ensure Everyone is Safe, Included and Learning. Bristol: Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (CSIE).

Department for Education and Department of Health (2015) Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/send-code-of-practice-0-to-25 (Accessed April 2021).

Equality Act (2010) Available at:  www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents (accessed April 2021).

Hehir T et al (2016) A Summary of the Evidence on Inclusive Education. Available at: https://alana.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/A_Summary_of_the_evidence_on_inclusive_education.pdf (accessed April 2021).

Human Rights Act (1998) Available at: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/42/contents (accessed April 2021).

Knowledge Box on Disabled Children’s Rights in Education (2020) Available upon free registration at: https://dlot.eu/course/index.php?categoryid=22 (Accessed April 2021).

Snow, J. (2001) ‘Dreaming, speaking and creating: What I know about community’, in Great Questions: Writings of Judith Snow. Available at: https://resources.depaul.edu/abcd-institute/publications/Documents/Judith_book_1.1%20copy.pdf (accessed April 2021).

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