The disabled have been sold short for too long

28th September 2012 at 01:00

Only last week TESS reported how Northern Ireland's education minister admired the ease of transition for children in Scotland from nursery to primary to secondary, compared with their pupils who still have to jump through hoops to get into selective grammars. But it isn't like that for everyone.

This week's News Focus shows a very different side to Scottish education - one in which children are left lonely and isolated because they are separated from their friends when they move up to secondary, and bullied by adolescents who have no appreciation of their difficulties. The transition to further education is even worse, as they take their first steps into a frightening adult world (pages 12-15).

These are the disabled children and young people in Scotland who are the subject of a major study by researchers at the University of Strathclyde. More than a decade after the Scottish Executive introduced its policy of social inclusion and mainstream schooling for all who wanted it, the failures and shortcomings remain.

Policy after policy has been published, all with good intentions, but the training and resources to back them up are still lacking. One problem is the abolition of ring-fenced funding: money that would once have been protected to support the young people's needs is now being absorbed into council coffers.

Low expectations and limited opportunities do little to improve the young people's prospects, and teachers frequently don't know how to help them. Nor is the situation likely to improve any time soon. The TESS survey of council budgets in February revealed that support for learning was an easy target for cuts in times of recession, and it still is (page 6).

If schools are failing to live up to the ideals of social inclusion, colleges are struggling even more in the face of brutal cuts to funding and staff (page 8). While many do excellent work with individual students, the system is not geared up for those with physical or learning disabilities, forcing some to head south to specialist colleges in England. It will be interesting to see where these youngsters sit in the new regional college boards' plans.

There is some hope that recent policies like Getting It Right for Every Child and Curriculum for Excellence will help, as support services learn to work more closely together and focus on the needs of the individual. Last month's Paralympics stunned audiences by showing how far people can achieve beyond expectations, given the right circumstances. But not everyone can join the elite. For most, the harsh reality of day-to-day life remains: when people with no disabilities are struggling to find work and survive in a recession, what chance is there for the disabled? That is one the politicians must address.

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