Analyzing the Relationship Between Inclusion, Achievement and Attainment in Scottish Education

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This essay aims to critically analyse the relationship between inclusion, achievement, and attainment in Scottish education, by discussing the three concepts to determine their importance within the educational standards. It will be argued that the three concepts work in partnership and thus, follow the Scottish Governments hopes to provide high educational standards. Educational settings are becoming increasingly diverse and development is essential. To understand and analyse the relationships, this paper will consider relevant legislation, educational theory, policy and guidance and research on inclusion, achievement, and attainment, from the Scottish Government and academic research through a literature review. Furthermore, the three concepts will be compared, incorporating strengths, weaknesses, and apparent issues between them.

The definition for the concept of inclusion is difficult, with no full understanding available, however the Scottish Government states: “an inclusive approach recognises diversity and holds the ambition that all children and young people are enabled to achieve to their fullest potential is the cornerstone to achieve equity and excellence in education for all of our children and young people” (SG, 2019: 3). Furthermore, the Index for Inclusion states: “Inclusion in education involves the processes of increasing the participation of students in, and reducing their exclusion from, the cultures, curricula and communities of local schools… Inclusion is concerned with improving schools for staff as well as students” (Booth & Ainscow, 2002). Inclusion has become increasingly more crucial for the development of children and is embedded into teacher training. It is an educational perspective that acknowledges that all children should be included within the mainstream, and therefore not isolated nor excluded due to any additional support needs (ASN). Additionally, inclusion entails pupil’s participation in their own learning and describes an educational system that enhances participation and reduces exclusion in schools, so a child feels they belong, guaranteeing they can gain academic achievement (Booth, 2002).

The United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) protects children’s rights so they can achieve their full potential, without discrimination. This has shown in studies, as positive for behaviour management, improved health and wellbeing and a higher self esteem in pupils, which can impact on a child’s feelings of inclusion and empowerment (Osler, 2010). It links with the aims of Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC), to improve and support the well-being of children by offering help when required (GTCS, 2016). This allows for pupils to be included no matter their circumstances and draws upon an inclusive practice approach by teachers to employ strategies for supporting diversity and reducing potential barriers so that pupils can achieve their full potential in learning (ECU, 2014). For inclusive practice to be successful, resources must be available for use, alongside consideration of the pupil’s specific support needs. Furthermore, teachers must have adequate levels of training in the approach so that they can practice inclusively. Teacher’s must not underestimate the abilities and potential of a pupil, aiming for high, appropriate, and realistic expectations for each pupil. In addition, the Dweck Mindset Theory incorporates arguments of inclusive practice, linking achievement and attainment which reflect ideas for successful inclusive education “that all students can learn and progress” and “achievement for all is changeable and not fixed” (Hattie, 2009: 218). Differentiation is the adjustment of the teaching practice, often considered in terms of inclusive practice, involving individual lesson planning and methods of teaching, and learning resources, to facilitate each diverse pupil and meet their ability levels. The difference between inclusion and differentiation includes the equal opportunities to achieve all pupil’s full potential, by supporting those with special and additional needs (Hart, 1996). However, this can theoretically impact on the more able learners through an absence of challenging learning and skill development.

Inclusion is a concern within legislation and policies, specifically as a human right for all (UN, 1948). It is discussed primarily within Scottish education, focusing on reinforcing it within the curriculum (Riddell, 2009: 289). However, some negativity and uncertainty for its implementation to education has arose due to the concept’s flexibility and its broad approach can be specific at times, but also varied among the diversity of pupils (Florian & Black-Hawkins, 201: 314). It has been argued that inclusion and inclusive practice are hampered considerably by government legislations and policies, withholding development in the approach to education. Irrespective of numerous government legislations and policies, inclusion is challenging to execute due to conflicting guidance (Booth, 2005: 154). Yet, the Scottish Education Secretary recently stated that “our legislative and policy commitments are amongst the most extensive in the world” (Swinney 2013: 3).

There are many aspects for inclusion that are positive and negative, but it does not come without challenges. Careful consideration is required when planning for ASN pupils, but despite guidelines and policies that emphasize the significance of inclusion, educational settings may not be able to provide full inclusion due to their circumstances. Conflicts in government policy between the 'standards' and 'league tables' discourse and the 'inclusive schools' discourse have made it challenging for educational settings to be fully inclusive (Evans & Lunt, 2002: 1). Society has pressed for a result-driven ethos, whereby educational settings concentrate on academic excellence and thus compete for funding. This has resulted in failure to provide for ASN pupils, leaving them neglected and excluded, the opposite of the aim for inclusion.

The concept of achievement is continually changing and began as an interpretation for attainment from testing and exams, whereby pupils were compared and assessed based on their peers, reflecting society’s views (Cole, 1990: 2). Currently, achievement is discussed as an individual concept more positively by acknowledging a pupil holistically and considering their learning. Ability is not to be confused with achievement however, with an emphasis on the achievement of all children. By measuring a pupil’s achievement beyond testing and exams, a child’s development can be ascertained instead of measuring through their ability (Winstanley, 2019: 360). Regardless of developing policies, the perception of high standard achievements being deemed as successful have not entirely been eliminated. With national and regional statistics on exam results reported annually there is still an overhanging view of high standards of results being the goal. Inclusive practice can subsequently be refused due to a negative view that effects academic achievement of those who did not receive as high results, meaning standards overall are lessened (Black-Hawkins, 2010: 21). Furthermore, a fully accommodating educational ethos can provide and promote achievement in pupils and teachers, producing a supportive environment for achievement. The CfE holds these key aspects within the quality indicator framework for creating a child focused ethos. In addition, 'How Good is Our School (HGIOS4) supports measuring success of pupils through attainment throughout the curriculum and learner’s achievements (SG, 2015a: 50). The policies encompass both achievement and attainment, to create a link between them, in academic accomplishment and other significant areas.

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Extra-curricular achievements have become vital for child development, with educational settings placing a greater importance on the significance of academic and non-academic achievements. They can help the improvement of academic attainment through participation, with research finding that activities out with the curriculum can positively affect academic achievement, more so in disadvantaged children (Morris, 2012: 287). This in turn is beneficial for closing the attainment gap. Furthermore, it is highlighted throughout the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE): “personal achievement provides children and young people with a sense of satisfaction and helps to build motivation, resilience and confidence” (SG, 2008).

Attainment overlaps similarity with achievement making the understanding of the concepts solely, difficult. Attainment is understood as the progress a learner makes from obtaining new skills that are then shown through improvement in a formal way, from which teachers check the learning through assessments (STEC, 2019). Moreover, attainment is reaching a specific level of skill that was set as a benchmark or achieving a goal or something of importance, however it does not always recognise the academic achievements of learners. The CfE developed a set guide for pupil progress within Scotland which outlines age specific benchmarks for learners (SG, 2008). If a learner is unable to work to the set benchmark, the attainment levels differ and can be the result of various issues such as ASN or Adverse childhood experiences (Houtepen et al, 2020). Furthermore, there has been evidence to suggest that there is an increase in behavioural issues where academic attainment is the sole focus within education (Sosu & Ellis, 2014).

The poverty attainment gap is one of the main continual obstacles in educational achievement, impacting on pupil destinations (Sosu & Ellis, 2014: 3). Raising attainment is a dedication that requires an array of approaches, strategies, and initiatives, with a focus on poverty and health and wellbeing from a young age (SG, 2013). Initiatives to support this, such as ‘The Scottish Attainment Challenge’, pursues improvement in attainment overall and closing the attainment gap (SG, 2014). A further initiative, the ‘National Improvement Framework’ (NIF), seeks to address the same objectives, using a plan that assesses learners at various points within their education for literacy and numeracy, creating data results that are used in local authorities and nationally in support of assisting poverty (SG, 2016). The Scottish Attainment Challenge acknowledges that learning is specific to each learner and seeks to create positive conditions for learning and improve attainment in poorer pupils through partnership working and teacher development to improve the outcome for disadvantaged learners (Baars et al, 2014; McCluskey, 2017: 26) The aim is to focus on development in health and wellbeing, literacy and numeracy, concentrating specifically on areas of deprivation in Scotland and thus, providing funding such as the Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) to assist in closing the gap (SG, 2015b). Regardless of the funding provided, understanding the scale and nature of the attainment gap is crucial to developing a plan to help close it. With health and well-being a key area for attainment to ensure the development of a safe and nurturing environment, collaboration between school and homes can help to close the gap.

Scottish education focuses on the expectation of values and principles shaping social justice, fairness, and equality, yet regardless of this, the attainment gap is still largely predominant in Scotland according to a current PISA report and EEF report, which highlighted key problems that can advise educational settings and teachers following analyse (OCED, 2013; EEF, 2017). There are arguments that believe that the gap is fabricated, stating that there should only be a raising of the bar, to ensure all children, specifically those from disadvantaged backgrounds can reach a minimum educational threshold (Murphy, 2014). Raising attainment is promoted strongly in a universal manner, but through directed approaches and policy initiatives attainment could become more supported by schools. Implementing the correct and successful initiatives for closing the gap are difficult as education alone, cannot stop the impact of poverty and no matter the help provided, the balance will always be unfavourable for learners living in deprivation (McCluskey, 2017: 27).

Following the review of literature, the relationship between the concepts; inclusion, achievement, and attainment and their definitions and understandings with one another, have been understood to have positive aspects but also pose implications. Inclusion brings a sense of belonging and promotes learner participation, resulting in developments of communication and positive behaviour. Feeling included can assist in academic performance for all learners, not just those with ASN who have been segregated from mainstream learning. Achievement can be affected by factors controlled by educational settings regardless of policies, such as the quality of resources, teaching, and leadership, which highlights that inclusion does not necessarily determine learner achievement. There is an increasing responsibility being placed on schools to provide and incorporate changes and policies into the educational setting, however this places stress on teachers in regard to a lack of resources and training (Black-Hawkins, 2010: 37). Even with policies such as PEF supporting the most disadvantaged areas in Scotland, many necessary policies cannot be implemented to a full extent.

With developing understandings, policies and legislation, an emphasis for educational standards and child development have evolved through the construction of the CfE, GIRFEC, NIF and HGIOS4 (SG, 2008; GTCS, 2016; SG, 2016: ES, 2020). Thus, educational settings can consequently work towards improving their standard of teaching and learning and goals, ensuring a safe and nurturing environment that is child centred. There has been a great emphasis within educational settings to create inclusive schools, that develop the concepts of achievement and attainment for all learners. Achievement is the journey of a learner, attainment as the outcome of the journey, and together result in a successful learner. Continued evolution in teaching practice, pedagogy and adaptions of legislations and policies, is considerably challenging the way the three concepts are understood, alongside the continually changing shifts in social, political, and economic circumstances. There is still a long journey to go for the development of an ideal, with all three concepts as important as one another and all must be implemented together to be successful. As much as schools are developing, there is still a long way to go before full inclusion is achieved for all learners, where achievement is valued, and attainment is an important aspect to all children and lastly, these concepts are not just the responsibility of educational settings, but out with holistically.

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