Drama gives an edge to inclusion
It follows the undertaking by Peter Peacock, Education Minister, that priority would be given to recruiting specialist teachers in drama, PE and music as a means of boosting attainment.
The "Collusion Inclusion" conference, held at Glasgow's Tramway Theatre, was part of a three-day festival aimed at using the arts to promote social inclusion.
Ian Kerr of the Executive's social work services inspectorate said that inclusion policies themselves should be inclusive, covering all areas of life such as the arts.
Mr Kerr pointed to the growing success of inclusion, with 24 per cent of those with learning disabilities living on their own and 20 per cent in employment.
Kieran Gillespie, Collusion Theatre's artistic director, said that drama had a key role. "We don't claim to be specialists in the area of working with people with learning disabilities. But drama can bring benefits and that has fed back to us. It helps to develop confidence, stimulate imagination and share enjoyment," Mr Gillespie said.
But he highlighted the lack of activities available for young people with disabilities, "particularly where there are so many organised activities for young children".
Craig Fulton, East Ayrshire's health and activity motivator for children with learning disabilities, agreed. "From an evaluation by parents whose children were involved in the project, the results showed that social interaction and drama skills improved 100 per cent, with confidence and speech improving by 80 per cent."
Mr Fulton warned, however, that integration is a marathon not a sprint. "We want to make sure integration is for full life rather than a short period of time."
Anita Loring of the Cerebral Palsy European Community said that it was not difficult to find the people and the enthusiasm to run such projects. The problem lay in the funding.
One parent, whose son was involved in a project whose funding folded, echoed concerns about short-termism. "It is a great disappointment that the group can't continue," she said. "It is difficult to explain lack of funding to our children. They only understand disappointment."
Activate!, the programme concerned, was a national drama-based initiative supported by the Executive, the Northern Rock Foundation and three local authorities - East Renfrewshire, East Ayrshire and Angus.
The aim was to use drama to help develop confidence and imagination as well as social and personal skills.
Mainstream and additional needs drama groups were established and later brought together as confidence increased and relationships developed.