Achieving Inclusiveness in Scottish Education

By MacBride, George A. | Phi Delta Kappan, April 1997 | Go to article overview

Achieving Inclusiveness in Scottish Education


MacBride, George A., Phi Delta Kappan


The commitment to inclusiveness in Scottish education has not come about by chance and marks a substantial change in many of the long-standing traditions and practices of Scottish schooling, as Mr. MacBride explains.

It is a truism to state that school systems develop within the structures of the societies they serve. It may be less generally accepted that educational development should not be a passive response to the pressures imposed by other structures within society but must actively contribute to determining the nature of society. If it is to do so, a school system must have a clear rationale, and those who participate in it must have a clear view of the nature of the society they wish to live in. However, educational development involves, both formally and informally, many agents and social organizations; reality is messy, and many participants in the education system may not have clearly specified their aims in a coherent statement. Further, educational development must build on the existing structures and practices of education and schools: none of us can escape from history. In this article I will argue that the Scottish school system provides an example both of such purposeful development and of the incoherence or messiness within which it is situated.

If there is one theme, one concept, even one single word that characterizes Scottish education today, it is "inclusiveness." While the implementation and realization of this concept take a number of forms, its importance has been formally recognized by nearly all the participants in the world of Scottish education; the body least committed to the principle is probably the current government. (It should be noted that the present Conservative government of the United Kingdom enjoys little support within Scotland, whether this is defined in terms of the number of members of Parliament, elected local councilors, or opinion polls.) However, this commitment to inclusiveness has not come about by chance and marks a substantial change in many of the long-standing traditions and practices of Scottish schooling.

It is a fundamental and legally recognized principle in Scottish education that all children are educable. This statement appears to be almost trivially self-evident, but it must be borne in mind that it was only in 1974 that this concept was recognized by legislation; before that date a very small number of children with profound learning difficulties were considered ineducable and were therefore cared for, not educated. But this formal statement has been developed into a real recognition that, if all children are educable, then all children are entitled to a curriculum that is founded on the same qualities, which are summarized within the 5-14 Programme as breadth, balance, coherence, continuity, and progression.(1) There can be no suggestion that some children should be offered a curriculum that is narrow or limited because of their difficulty in learning. This inclusive approach has major implications for practice in schools and classrooms.

It would be a simplistic response to this recognition of the right of all pupils to a curriculum built on common principles to provide identical learning experiences for all children. Within Scotland, it is agreed that an inclusive system must recognize the individuality of each child and, therefore, each child's particular needs must be addressed. In this context the core concept is that of differentiation: the practice of ensuring that each child's experiences in school recognize his or her prior knowledge, interests, personal characteristics, strengths and weaknesses, and the variety of supports he or she will require to learn successfully within and outside the school. This commitment to the individuality of each child could be interpreted as an acceptance of inequality. However, it is a fundamental principle accepted by almost all stakeholders in Scottish education that all children are of equal worth and importance and that consequently their individual needs must be given equal priority. …

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