The fundamental right to education

paul ashtonWhen I am not working, I like to engage in activities that take my mind off my work. I like to distract myself and have fun. I like to ride bikes as fast as I can, and I like to drive cars as fast as I am allowed to. Both in controlled and appropriate environments of course! It can be exhilarating, a bit scary and really satisfying in equal doses when competitive, and a nice day out when the destination is a café.

Approximately 10 years into my career, I found myself in Tower Hamlets being totally inspired by the Salamanca Statement which was a new, at the time, dynamic, bold statement regarding special educational needs and inclusion. It resonated with me to such an extent it became somewhat of a guiding set of principles for me. I still have it up on my wall in my office today.

It goes like this:

• every child has a fundamental right to education, and must be given the opportunity to achieve and maintain an acceptable level of learning,
• every child has unique characteristics, interests, abilities and learning needs,
• education systems should be designed and educational programmes implemented to take into account the wide diversity of these characteristics and needs,
• those with special educational needs must have access to regular schools which should accommodate them within a child centred pedagogy capable of meeting these needs,
• regular schools with this inclusive orientation are the most effective means of combating discriminatory attitudes, creating welcoming communities, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all; moreover, they provide an effective education to the majority of children and improve the efficiency and ultimately the cost-effectiveness of the entire education system.

This publication may be freely quoted and reproduced. Printed in UNESCO 1994.

Wow! When I read it now, it still makes the hairs on my arm stand up. This is it then I thought. This is what I want for children, something to aim for, a destination and journey to aspire to. Easy, we can do it! Fast forward another 10 years and another such moment for me. Christine Gilbert, head of Ofsted and champion of personalised learning, wrote to the then Secretary State on behalf of the Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review group outlining the following vision:

Together, schools, local and national government need to work towards a society in which:

• a child’s chances of success are not related to his or her socio-economic background, gender or ethnicity
• education services are designed around the needs of each child, with the expectation that all learners achieve high standards
• all children and young people leave school with functional skills in English and mathematics, understanding how to learn, think creatively, take risks and handle change
• teachers use their skills and knowledge to engage children and young people as partners in learning, acting quickly to adjust their teaching in response to pupils’ learning
• schools draw in parents as their child’s co-educators, engaging them and increasing their capacity to support their child’s learning.

Crown Copyright 2006 Produced by the Department for Education and Skills

Again, this was something that I could see as being an agreeable destination for 2020 and something to aim towards.

Another 10 years on, its 2016 and what have the next 10 years got in store? I feel like I really do not know at the moment, but it is important to me that I make the effort to hold on to what I believe in more than ever, because looking forward, I am sure of one thing, it feels like I have a big tiger by the tail at the moment, it’s all a bit exhilarating and scary.

However, I think that if I keep a firm grip on the tail, a keen eye on the business end and not lose sight of where we have come from, it will be okay in the end. I might not be so sure of the destination as I used to be, but I think it is going to be one heck of a ride if I hang on tight. It certainly doesn’t feel like a nice day out at the moment!

Paul Ashton, Head Teacher at Shiney Row Primary School, Sunderland

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