Tim Loreman from Canada has been a regular respondent to this blog since it was first started. Whenever he posts his thoughts he has something interesting and often challenging to say, and I find myself thinking about his words and their implications for those of us working for the promotion of a more just and inclusive education system. On June 8th Tim made a number of observations in response to a piece I had written Avoiding uncomfortable issues will not help children in which I reported on debates at a recent seminar in Cambridge UK, to discuss progress in supporting the development of education in countries experiencing social and economic difficulties.
In Tim’s response he directed readers towards a series of podcasts under the title ‘The Scholarship of Inclusive Education’ that he has recently produced. These feature interviews with a number of widely published writers and researchers most of whom have worked for the promotion of inclusive education for more than twenty five years. These recordings present the thoughts of individuals from several parts of the world, including Roger Slee (Australia), Phyllis Jones (USA) and Chris Forlin (Hong Kong) and are a useful resource for students, teachers and researchers working in this area. You can listen to them at http://education.concordia.ab.ca/inclusionpodcast/ I certainly intend using these interesting interviews for teaching purposes.
Amongst the recordings there is a discussion with Professor Mel Ainscow, a long standing colleague who has written and researched in the area of inclusion over a very long period. He has also acted as a consultant and advisor to government departments in the UK and internationally. Mel always has something interesting to say and in this recording is was noticeable that both Tim and myself picked up on his assertion that he feels:-
“disappointment that at a recent event to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Salamanca Statement the conversation had not seemed to have changed all that much since 1994”.
The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action initiated by UNESCO, was signed by representatives of 92 countries in 1994 making a commitment to promote more equitable education systems internationally, and to ensure that those children who have been denied access to mainstream education as a result of their special educational needs or disabilities gain a place in an appropriate school. At the time it was anticipated that this might be a significant driving force for change, and indeed it was a spur for policy makers, academics and teachers to debate educational provision around the world. Such is the significance of this document that it is cited in policies, academic papers and other publications and portrayed as one of the most influential documents in education internationally. For this reason I am not wholly in agreement with Mel Ainscow about change. At least the issues of children’s rights to education have been well debated, and this may not have happened without the influence of The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action.
The frustration expressed by Mel and many of us working in this field is, I feel, most closely related to the fact that many individuals and policy makers still regard children and families as being the problem within the inclusion debate. How do we solve the problems of disabled children in schools? What are we to do with disaffected youth? How can we address the challenges presented by dysfunctional families? These and other similar questions appear to dominate much of the education debate and place the blame for educational shortcomings firmly at the door of those for whom we would claim to have concerns and some responsibility. Many of us have long felt that it is not these individuals and groups who constitute the challenge, but rather the inflexibility of our approach to schooling and our interpretations of the purpose of education. Are we simply rehearsing old arguments and going around in ever decreasing circles? As Tim stated in his response to my earlier item, we have spent so much time debating the nature of inclusion that this has become displacement activity and it has stopped us doing too much about it. This was never the idea behind Salamanca, which was intended to be a catalyst for action rather than simply a talking point for academics and policy makers.
So, I wonder what we would see as the successes of the inclusion debate that has raged over the twenty year period since that seminal meeting in Salamanca? To what extent has it impacted upon the lives of children? What actions have resulted from this debate where you live? It is easy to be pessimistic and to feel that progress is terribly slow, but surely some of you have examples of successes and commitment to improve the lives of children who have previously been marginalised within education and wider society.
I would like to make this the start of a period of optimism on this blog. To report on actions that have changed the lives of children and families. To highlight the achievements of children, teachers and others in the campaign for inclusion. I’m sure some of you must have good news to report and hope that you may be willing to share this with a wider audience. I am ever optimistic about hearing from you.