A new world built on access

2nd February 2007 at 00:00
Glasgow's groundbreaking strategy on inclusion aims to make disabled people part of every workplace and social situation. A company using trainers with a range of disabilities to instruct headteachers about equality issues is helping to turn this vision into reality

glasgow's motto used to be that it was "miles better". When it comes to its response to the Additional Support for Learning Act, it believes it is "miles ahead".

John Butcher, senior education officer, bases this quiet boast on the comprehensive range of continuing professional development courses, materials and resources the council has developed to support its work on inclusion and help heads and teachers to comply with the new ASL Act and legislation on discrimination.

The authority is proud of the training materials it has developed on equality, using The Know How Company, because it employs trainers who are disabled and who work in education. The training is mandatory for all headteachers and considered a core part of their continuing professional development, says Margaret Orr, head of special educational needs.

It has been paid for by the annual pound;900,000 funding for additional support needs the council receives from the Scottish Executive - more than other councils, because of its size. The intention is that headteachers and senior managers cascade what they have learned to the rest of their staff.

"The headteachers have to audit the needs profiles of their own schools and communities. The materials challenge traditional attitudes around disability," says Ms Orr.

Complying with the ASL Act is a big task - from the smallest to the largest authority - she says. "We are being asked to view things in a different way, but it is not so fundamentally different that we can't manage it. What do we think we are doing, if we are not comfortable about assessing individual needs or doing inter-agency work?"

Paul McColgan, director of The Know How Company, says: "People are beginning to imagine a future generation where 'inclusion' will be a redundant concept. We will see disabled people in every workplace and in every social situation as commonplace. We have the knowledge to make this a reality. As a society, what we need now is the will to make it happen."

His company developed the disability equality strategy for the council and delivered the training programme for education services. The three main trainers, all disabled, were Colin Cameron, who works in higher education, Sasha Callaghan, in further education, and Paul Brown, a disability inclusion officer for Scottish universities.

"It was about changing attitudes - the aim was to help people understand that disability equality is a human rights issue. It doesn't boil down to workload and such. It has to be a fundamental part of the school. They can't have one person responsible for it, it has to permeate the school,"

says Mr McColgan.

In the first training session, the trainers sent the headteachers off to do "homework": to make a list of all the disabled children in their school and the adaptations and accommodations they had made for them.

"Most people realised they were talking about 20-30 per cent of the school roll fitting into this definition - not just a few folk who were wheelchair users."

The sessions ad-dressed how teachers could make children with Asperger's Syn-drome participate in class more easily. For instance, as many of these children are visual learners, it helps if teachers write down lists, break down information into small chunks, and are aware of their sensory sensitivities.

The training included work on behavioural difficulties, delivered by two former educational psychologists, Derek Wilson and Colin Newton, of Inclusive Solutions, based in Nottingham, who have developed creative and imaginative ways of working with SEBD pupils. They argue, for instance, that while most teachers tend to use the brightest, best behaved pupils to mentor those with behavioural difficulties, it is more effective to use those who have previously been labelled disruptive.

Resources to help schools include a new "social emotional learning framework", which has been devised to provide a common language and structure for profiling pupils' behaviour and draws on educational psychologist Alan McLean's work, The Motivated School.

A DVD has been produced on mediation training, with dramatised scenarios exploring resolution techniques, and a code of practice has been drawn up for compliance with the ASL Act, along with policy guidelines and a parents' guide.

In addition, Glasgow has introduced a computerised planning and assessment form on the Seemis management information system that links all its schools. This allows teachers to record information about pupils' needs and can be used as an internal assessment form or an external document. If and when information sharing between social work, health and education reaches the stage where there is a "single file child", the system could come into its own.

Lynn Smith, head of Hills Trust Primary, who has completed the training, believes successful implementation of A Curriculum for Excellence is linked to compliance with the ASL Act, disability awareness and The Motivated School. She believes if your approach to inclusion is right, ACfE will come naturally because you will have the right attitudes. For her, the motivating and engaging factor of the training was the fact that it was delivered by disabled trainers: "We were getting a perspective we don't normally hear."

Jim Mooney, head of Lourdes Secondary, agrees: "The training changed attitudes. It made me more aware that there was a wide variety of needs. We have done extensive training on the 'circle of friends' technique - where you get a number of like-minded people round the table with various ideas and solutions. We have been working extensively with a pupil support team, and the planning and reporting framework.

"The disability equality trainers taught me that it's not a case that people can't do things - with the right supports, they are able to do almost anything.

"In S1, I have three children with serious disabilities. Through the training, I have been able to access a number of aids for them.

"A lot of money has been spent adapting the building to meet their needs and make staff aware of their disabilities. It is working very well - I feel encouraged."

Colin Cameron: the trainer

At the age of nine, Colin Cameron was in a road accident. He suffered a brain injury which resulted in slight slowness of speech, osteo-arthritis in one knee and residual paralysis. After his accident, he went back into a mainstream school.

"I spent a lot of time being very angry. I caused quite a bit of trouble as a teenager. I saw myself as having nothing whatsoever to do with disability or other disabled people," he says.

Mr Cameron found teachers wanted to treat him no differently from anyone else. "That was fair enough, but there are times when you do need to be treated differently, without any sense of stigma." He received no support in exams. Because of his paralysis, it took him longer to write essays and taking notes was difficult. So his exam marks were poorer than they should have been, which led to a general deterioration in his attitude.

"I felt, if I can't compete and distinguish myself in approved ways, then I will distinguish myself in ways which are not approved."

Now 42, Mr Cameron has a distinguished academic career: he took his first degree in social policy at Brighton Polytechnic; then did a course to teach adults with learning difficulties at Humberside Polytechnic; did a Masters in the History of Ideas at Northumbria University; a postgraduate certificate in management studies at Newcastle University; a final certificate in training practice at Leicester University; and is now doing a PhD at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh.

Central to his philosophy and training is the move over the last 20 years from the "medical" model of disability to the "social" model.

The medical model he describes as identifying areas which, because of their impairment, disabled people cannot access, such as education, employment, transport; and disability is reflected culturally in newspapers, films, TV programmes as a personal tragedy that no one would wish for.

The social model - promoted by the disabled people's movement - recognises distinctions within impairment, arguing that people with impairments are excluded from mainstream life by physical barriers and environmental or educational policies.

"Disability, instead of being something that people have, should be recognised just as part of human diversity."

He encountered a mix of attitudes from headteachers who took part in his training course. "Some were very responsive, very keen to embrace this agenda. Some were very hostile and couldn't see the point. They viewed it as political correctness.

"The ones who were more hostile tended to be older. Some were coming up to retirement - their take on it was, as long as they kept their heads down, they would be retired by the time they had to take on board these changes.

Others came along unconvinced, but during the course of the programme they turned into very powerful advocates of the changes.

"Initially, headteachers had perceived this as just yet another responsibility they were being asked to take on board by the education authority and they saw it principally as a matter of resources and themselves as being asked to deliver the impossible without extra resources.

"As we went through the programme, they began to see that resources are not just there in terms of finance; they have resources such as other children in the classroom who will know disabled people in the class best of all.

For example, they can develop circles of support, peer mentoring, and similar approaches.

"Far greater use could be made of resources in the schools which are already there, just untapped."

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