What’s the best thing you’ve seen happen in a school?
I was recently asked this question via Twitter, when Tes Scotland news editor Henry Hepburn posed it, and it immediately made me think of the celebration of World Down Syndrome Day at our son’s school in Portobello, Edinburgh. Being a parent of a daughter with Down’s syndrome, I had a quiet word with our son’s teacher about wearing odd socks – which has become a way of marking World Down Syndrome Day – to reflect and celebrate diversity within the community.
She agreed, and the P1s were invited to wear odd socks on that day – as you can see in the picture. A link to more information was sent out to parents and a whole-school assembly was set up for the P1s – who, for those who don't know the Scottish system, are mostly aged 5 – to share what they had learned about Down’s syndrome.
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Our son stood up in his bright, mismatched socks and spoke about his sister. He explained how she uses signs to communicate and he even taught the classes a few signs. The children particularly liked the sign for chocolate cake! A few words of thanks must go to the parents for joining in – I got a string of comments about their love of signing and celebrating difference. They also told me how glad they were that the school had taken the time to encourage discussion and support the inclusion of children who communicate in different ways.
Aside from being immensely proud of our son, we also appreciated the acknowledgement that there were some pupils in the school living with difference every day; that they come to school with skills of their own, such as signing or just plain old kindness from having a sibling who needs a bit more support.
From my own blogging and writing about all things inclusive, I have realised that this is what people want. Quite simply, people want an inclusive world, accepting of difference. They want their children to grow up knowing diversity, to learn resilience through observing the struggles of others and kindness by supporting them. And our children want to be part of that world, whatever that looks like for them. It might mean signing for some, small classes for others. It might mean large font, a ramp or a hearing loop. Or it might just mean taking the time to discuss how we all learn and acknowledging difference, acquiring patience when a pupil just can’t get the words out or sitting next to a pupil and asking them how they are.
All this comes at a cost to schools and puts added pressure on staff, but it is important. Our world must strive to be inclusive of everyone – and this single moment of celebration in a local, mainstream school represented that for me.
Lauren Eliott Lockhart is a specialist teacher in visual impairment in Scotland, and mum of Trudy, who happens to have Down’s syndrome