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Glasgow is 'top segregator'

Elizabeth Buie reports on one of the Executive's most contentious policies

The director of one of the UK's leading disability rights groups has "named and shamed" Glasgow for being the "top segregator" of pupils with special educational needs among Scottish authorities.

Richard Reiser, director of Disability Equality in Education, told a conference on mainstreaming held by Enquire, the Scottish advice service, that 2.8 per cent of SEN pupils went to special schools in Glasgow.

"Glasgow has one-third of special schools for 10 per cent of the population," Mr Reiser said.

Just below Glasgow in Mr Reiser's league table of "top segregators" were: Renfrewshire (2.3 per cent), Edinburgh (2 per cent), North Lanarkshire (1.8 per cent) and Aberdeen (1.7 per cent).

The top "includers" were: Angus, East Lothian, the Western Isles, Scottish Borders and Shetland, all with no special schools.

"This is not to say that there may not be some authorities sending some of their special needs pupils to Glasgow or Edinburgh - but the vast bulk of the 2.8 per cent in Glasgow's special schools are from the Glasgow population or surrounding areas," Mr Reiser said.

His organisation was working with Glasgow's education department on staff training, but that would only succeed if the authority accepted it had to put resources into mainstream education.

"There is still a need for the Scottish Executive to put across a vision of what it means by inclusion," Mr Reiser said. "Part of the campaign south of the border, 2020, is that we want to see the end of segregated education by 2020. I would like to see the Scottish Executive coming to grips with that and saying what we would have to do to make mainstream education fit for all these young people."

The London borough of Newham was "the most inclusive authority in England", having shut all but one of its special schools and had shown the highest rate of improvement among education authorities in England in the past seven years.

Mr Reiser said that pupils had to be in mainstream classes "most of the time" if they were to gain a sense of belonging, which was the most important thing.

"What we have learnt is to put systems in place for dealing with challenging behaviour. It should not be that class teachers are left to sink or swim. There needs to be support and a culture within the school supported by the senior management team," he said.

Mr Reiser backed new schemes based around the principle of restorative justice. "People who do disrupt have to come to terms with what they have done," he said. "Rather than being punished, they have to make amends. This is working in a number of authorities in Scotland and the police are using it more and more."

Full inclusion, however, would require a restructuring of the school system. But it was possible - with the right educational leadership, a "can-do" attitude in schools and good relationships with outside agencies.

It was also about all teachers in the school challenging existing practices, particularly as they affected disabled young people. Mr Reiser added: "To become a teacher you have to jump through certain hoops, so it is difficult for teachers to accept that there are other levels of achievement that young people can achieve."

Teachers had to shift their thinking so that they did not always link achievement to rigid attainment targets.

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