More talk around the Chianti

COMPLACENCY COULD undermine years of progress in special needs education, say top educationists.

The message came as Scotland's largest teaching union published a checklist for the Scottish Executive, underlining actions to ensure that inclusion policies are successful. The document covers issues as diverse as class sizes, the Neet group, architecture, the influx of workers from Eastern Europe and dawn raids on asylum seekers.

Martyn Rouse, director of the Inclusive Practice Project at Aberdeen University, underlined that schools and policy-makers could not afford to be complacent. "Inclusion is a process and not an event - it's not a destination at which we arrive," he said. "I have seen too many schools that have been inclusive, only to become less inclusive. It's easier to achieve when we have a supportive policy framework. We have that emerging through A Curriculum for excellence and other initiatives."

Professor Rouse said it was crucial that teachers be given more time to talk to each other. He pointed to Italy where, over "a couple of bottles of Chianti", teachers might spend two hours at lunch discussing professional issues. "This is something we need to build in," he said.

George MacBride, convener of the Educational Institute of Scotland education committee, expressed concern that a number of factors might undermine inclusion - rising child poverty, a culture of individualism rooted in the free market, and a tendency towards negative media stories that either demonise young people or portray them as "lost souls".

While generally positive about inclusion legislation such as the Additional Support for Learning Act, Mr MacBride is concerned that it may lead to counter-productive bureaucracy - a trend he had already identified in a small number of local authorities.

The comments came at an EIS conference in Aberdeen last weekend, where a turnout of some 200 - on a sunny Saturday - was interpreted by organisers as a determination in the teaching community to get inclusion right.

Delegates were issued with an EIS report on inclusion which said: "Policy statements without the resources to develop policy into practice will be at best ineffective and at worst counter-productive in their outcomes. The effectiveness of inclusive education polices will be limited unless there is an equally strong commitment to countering social inequality wherever this exists and to building an inclusive society."

The first responsibility identified is that there should be no weakening of the comprehensive school system through the introduction of separate schools or streams for certain groups of pupils. A common curriculum and assessment are deemed crucial, while the document demands recognition that "assessment systems which are designed to confirm failure will only exacerbate exclusion".

Policies designed to reduce numbers in the Neet group - young people not in education, employment or training - must not promote "further social inequality by labelling young people in socio-economic terms", the reports adds.

The arrival of asylum seekers and families from new European Union states and war-torn countries is tacitly addressed by a demand for greater support for the teaching of English as an additional language, coming as Mike Gibson, the executive's head of support for learning, circulated figures showing that 137 languages were spoken in Scottish schools.

A spokeswoman for the new SNP-led Scottish Executive said: "We want every child to get the attention and support they need to develop.JInclusion is firmly on our agenda.

We will work with professionals as we take forward these plans."

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