A PASSIONATE call for teachers to be more "inclusive" in their work was delivered at the annual conference of the Scottish Support for Learning Association last week.
Paul Hamill, head of educational support and guidance at Strathclyde University, said too many teachers still thought of inclusion as just being about pupils with special educational needs.
Many do not believe that includes young people with behavioural problems. "But I have seen very damaged and disturbed children whose special needs are much greater than those who are deaf or blind," Mr Hamill said.
Chris Smith, of Glasgow University, urged schools to broaden the spectrum of inclusion to cover very able pupils. "Inclusion is much more than a debate over mainstream and special school provision," she said. The definition of more able pupils extends beyond those who are simply good at traditional school skills.
Mr Hamill, whose work on inclusion with his colleague Brian Boyd, has amassed a database with details of 2,500 pupils, said too many teachers still believe in a "deficit philosophy" - that any problem always lies with the pupil, not the teacher or the curriculum whether formal or "hidden".
He acknowledged that inclusion of pupils is an emotive and challenging issue, and that every education authority is struggling with it. "But I don't believe we cannot achieve it because I have seen some superb examples of teachers who are achieving it," he said. "There is no doubt, however, that some are better than others."
More work had to be done to make teachers understand concepts such as severe and complex learning difficulties. "If a special needs philosophy permeated the life of schools, it would transform them because, as soon as you understand learning difficulties, you become a better teacher," Mr Hamill said.
The debate over inclusion often assumed that it was being achieved now. "But if you practise setting and put some in the top set, others will be in the bottom set and I can assure you that, if you talk to them, they certainly don't feel included."
Mr Hamill made it clear he was not calling for an end to special schools. He also warned against creating "colonies" in mainstream schools, in which pupils are confined to bases or units. "You are not necessarily being inclusive by having youngsters in mainstream schools," he said.
An inclusive education involves a recognition that the curriculum could be a source of difficulty, that everyone should be valued and that the highest priority is given to enhancing positive esteem so every child has "a moment to shine".
Leader, page 26