Double standards in education reform?

Learning difficulty

​Lesley Scott looks at the drive to close the educational attainment gap, and examines if disabled people are being left behind

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29th August 2019 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

Back in 2016, Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, stressed that closing the educational attainment gap was a “key focus” of her administration. In a statement to parliament, she said that education is “simply the most important tool we have for ensuring every youngster living in Scotland today has the support they need to pursue success”, adding “this equality of opportunity will make a huge difference to the lives of individuals the length and breadth of our country.”

It would appear, however, that this ‘equality of opportunity’ does not extend to those children and young people already disadvantaged through no fault of their own, but who have the very great misfortune to suffer from a chronic illness.

For these young people, physically getting to the school building is too much for them, let alone taking part in any lessons when they get there. Many local authorities do not offer home tuition, where teaching staff from the child’s school or from the local authority would come out to the home for one-to-one lessons; in some cases, home tuition depends on the good will of the teaching staff in the young person’s school. Other local authorities who do offer home tuition only provide sparse coverage, sometimes as little as 1 hour a week.

Out with home tuition what else is there for these young people except work being sent home from school for them to complete without any teaching input at all – hardly an exemplar of the “support they need to pursue success”.

The reality for many young people suffering from chronic illness, is that education has to be put on hold until they are recovered enough to once more attend school – but for some this can be years.

Lesley Scott

Lesley Scott

Many local authorities do not offer home tuition

Guidance on equality in education makes it clear that local authorities are required by law “to take reasonable steps to avoid substantial disadvantage” to those with a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Under the Equality Act 2010, these individuals have a protected characteristic – disability. Yet so often local authorities do not fulfil their duty to ensure disabled pupils have “access to an education as close as is reasonably possible to the education normally offered to pupils at large.”

What appears to be lacking in local authority decision-making is variety of opportunity that would address the varied needs, attributes and talents of young people. For example, local authorities have refused disabled pupil access to existing accredited virtual education platforms on the spurious basis of them not offering Scottish qualifications or that it is not an authority resource.

How can local authorities so blatantly fail in their duty to these young people causing a “loss of opportunity or the diminished progress” of a disabled child compared to their healthy counterparts, without facing any censure. The double standard is self-evident: a parent who takes the decision to keep their very sick child at home in order to prioritise recovery of their health, while the school and local authority fail to offer any provision that will not have a detrimental effect on that child’s health, can very quickly find themselves hauled before the Children’s Panel with threats of removing the child due to failure to attend school. This can have a traumatic effect on families.

If education is truly the great equalizer then the Scottish Government should support efforts to bring parity to the Scottish system for chronically ill young people by utilising existing virtual education platforms and bringing an end to educational discrimination of the sick and attacks on loving parents.

Lesley Scott is Scottish officer and trustee for Tymes Trust