On Thursday 2nd November, MSPs debated the topic of the presumption of mainstreaming in education.

Mainstreaming is the statutory presumption that children with additional support needs will be educated in mainstream schools, save for exceptional circumstances.

The principle of mainstreaming has underpinned the Scottish Parliament’s approach to education since the year 2000, however, there remains work to be done to ensure that the delivery of education is truly inclusive in practice.

Recent reports from both the Education and Skills Committee of the Scottish Parliament and the charity Enable Scotland have set out the barriers faced by children with learning difficulties and made recommendations on how things could be improved. Recommendations include, for example, improved content on dealing with children with additional support needs during initial teacher training.

The SNP Scottish Government has responded to these concerns by commissioning independent research on the delivery of inclusive education and by developing revised guidance on mainstreaming aimed at local authorities and schools, which is currently out for consultation.

SNP MSP for Cunninghame South, Ruth Maguire used her speech to call for more focus on the importance of inclusive play and nurture groups to creating a truly inclusive school experience.

Back in February, Ruth contributed to a Holyrood debate on Barnardo’s Nurture Week, drawing on her experience of visiting  Blacklands Primary and Kilwinning Academy, where she saw first-hand the positive and tangible affects of nurture groups on attainment and inclusion. And in March, Ruth led a Holyrood debate celebrating Scotland’s first national Play Charter, which was written and developed by Play Scotland and is based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

Speaking in the debate, Ruth said:

“The guidance, under the heading of ‘participating’ states that: ‘all children and young people will have the opportunity to participate and engage as fully as possible in all aspects of school life, including school trips and extracurricular activity.’

This, of course, includes a child’s right to play – something which is crucial to all aspects of a child’s development – social, emotional, intellectual and physical.

In this context, it should concern us all that nearly half (46%) of the children and young people with learning disabilities who took part in the ENABLE Scotland research reported that they don’t get the same chances to take part in games in the playground as everyone else in their school.

Similarly, a key finding of the 2015 Review of Inclusive Play in Scotland was that disabled children face multiple barriers to being able to play at school.

To ensure that all children are included at school and able to fulfil their right to play– it is clear that the provision of inclusive play must be improved.

Nurture groups also have tangible and positive effects on attainment and inclusion – and, crucially, enable children to remain part of their mainstream class whilst receiving extra support. It appears clear to me that they have an important role to play in delivering inclusion.

I would welcome seeing reference to both the importance of inclusive play and nurture groups as we work towards closing the attainment gap and creating a more truly inclusive educational experience for all of our children.”