Equality of Access for Pupils from Minority Ethnic Communities

Presented in March 2000

The Social Inclusion of Black/Minority Ethnic Children with SEN

Submission to the Scottish Parliament Committee of Inquiry on SEN Provision. From The Minority Ethnic Learning Disabilities Initiative Ltd [MELDI], Edinburgh


MELDI is a black-led voluntary sector organisation which provides advocacy support to black/minority ethnic disabled persons and their families. It has gained a sound understanding of the needs of families and the institutional barriers which they experience in caring for their children. This statement sets out the key principles which we feel must be recognised and strategic questions which are critical to ensure that the rights of children of black/minority ethnic background are acknowledged and honoured by the Scottish Executive, Local Authorities, Schools, Support Services and Voluntary Agencies. Only when this is so will it demonstrate a commitment to the elimination of institutional racism and Social Inclusion become a reality.

There is an abundance of evidence to demonstrate that black/minority ethnic communities experience institutional and structural barriers in accessing their entitlements to public services [The MacPherson Report, 1999]. MELDI believes that institutional racism can be eliminated if policy and practice must be founded on the following principles:


Special needs education varies considerably between different local authorities in Scotland. In particular, provision of special schools is largely determined the historical circumstances of local authority reorganisation with some authorities inheriting many special schools and other authorities inheriting few or none. These differences mediate against a consistent national wide policy towards special educational needs. Families are well aware of these issues, especially if at some point they have been unsuccessful in making a placing request because of local authority boundaries. For black and minority ethnic families who are predominantly resident in Scotland's city authorities, this situation means that it is difficult to access consistent support and advice. Variation between local authorities further adds to a sense of isolation which many black families experience. There is no national policy or research data on the assessment and placement of black/minority ethnic children in SEN provision despite the recommendations of the formal inquiry by the CRE(1996).


Policy moves towards inclusive education are very welcome but need to be supported by appropriate provision. At present, particular areas of provision (for example speech and language units) are in great demand. Children from black and minority ethnic groups may be at a structural disadvantage where there is great demand for a particular resource. MELDI has just commenced a research and development project on SEN (funded by the Scottish Executive) and early findings from this project show that families from black and minority ethnic groups have less access to voluntary sector information and support. Excellent information packages and educational advice services which are developed by specialist voluntary organisations are not reaching families from black and minority ethnic groups. For them to benefit from moves towards inclusive education, the government must ensure that situations in which there is competition over scarce resources are addressed so as to not compound the problems encountered by black communities.


At present, educational psychologists are given the role of allocating resources and of making assessments of individual children. This is a conflict of interest in that the psychologist is inevitably under pressure to make assessments which will match provision available. This is an area of concern at all transitional stages and particularly when a child is first assessed before starting school. Professionals must have due regard to the religious persuasion, racial origin, cultural and linguistic background of the families with whom they are working. This is not possible unless assessments focus on the potential of the child and are not affected by resources. Parents need to be confident that the particular circumstances of their child are under consideration and that processes and procedures are racially inclusive.


Despite the rhetoric of 'partnership', MELDI has found that parents are seriously under-represented in making decisions about their children.. Even in difficult circumstances of caring for children who are disabled, these parents can and do demonstrate positive qualities in responding to their situation, are resourceful, self-reliant, supportive of other parents and show perseverance. Yet, they have complained that professionals have low expectations of them and they have found themselves having to liaise between different parties in order to ensure that the child's needs are understood by all professionals. Children's Services, particularly education and health, are at the top of the list of priorities for black/minority ethnic parents; in addition to concerns about access to services, they worry about the safety of their children from racial attacks. It is therefore critical that in the planning and delivery of services, explicit account is given to issues of racial equality in assessing the needs of black/minority ethnic families of children with SEN? Summarised below are brief indicators:

Factors in Assessing the Needs of Families

Factors in Assuring Racial Equality in Actively Working with Families


MELDI would like the Committee of Inquiry to investigate if and how the above range of bodies:

March 2000.