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Call to Encourage More Disabled Into Teaching

Ministers were last night urged to do more to encourage people with disabilities into the teaching profession in Scotland.

The call came after new figures showed there were only 421 disabled teachers in Scotland out of nearly 53,000. At the same time, the percentage of disabled people entering teacher training has fallen from 8.8% in 1999 to just 4.5%. Estimates suggest that about 20% of Scotland's population of five million have some form of disability.

The figures were obtained by Leonard Cheshire Scotland, a charity representing disabled people, through freedom of information legislation.

Ryan McQuigg, policy officer with Leonard Cheshire, has written to Hugh Henry, Education Minister, asking him what action he intends to take to address the imbalance.

"While realizing that universities focus on individual recruitment strategies, we believe that the executive should be taking steps to set the mood and direction on promoting equal access for disabled people to enter the teaching profession," he said.

Mr. McQuigg said disabled people benefited the teaching profession by raising awareness of the nature of disability, as well as challenging negative attitudes and expectations in society.

A spokesman for Leonard Cheshire went on to stress the importance of having more teachers with disabilities in the light of the executive's policy of mainstreaming--introducing more pupils with learning and behavioural difficulties into state schools.

"Mainstreaming has meant that disabled pupils are not uncommon in today's state schools, but what these statistics starkly illustrate is that it's still unusual for a disabled person to be sitting at the head of a Scottish classroom," he said.

Linda Arnot, a French teacher from Rosshall Academy in Glasgow, who was the first blind teacher of sighted children in Scotland, believes attitudes towards teachers with disabilities are changing.

The 39-year-old wanted to be a teacher from her early teens, but did not think it was possible because she did not know of any blind person who was a teacher. Instead, she studied French and Russian at Strathclyde University intending to be a translator or an interpreter. However, she heard about a blind girl who had trained to be a teacher in Sheffield and decided to follow suit.

"I applied to Jordanhill, but they said there was no point because I wouldn't be able to get a job afterwards. Things have changed a lot these days and Jordanhill are much more positive, but that was the attitude then," she said.

After her training, she went to teach French at Penilee School in Glasgow, which has become Rosshall. Although she has found the job hard work at times, she believes the training at Sheffield stood her in good stead.

"The first time I was in a class observing a lesson, the children had been promised a video to watch if they behaved, but when their teacher left the room, they all got out of their seats and started shouting," she said. "I couldn't let that carry on. I got up and shouted at them and said that if they didn't behave and sit down, they wouldn't get their video. They all sat down and were quiet, and I was amazed.

"I knew if I couldn't control a class, I wouldn't be able to be a teacher. I think if that first experience had been a negative one, I might have thought twice about teaching, but because it was positive it gave me the confidence to go on."

Ms. Arnot said she now rarely shouts at her class because other discipline strategies are much more effective, including the close working relationship she has with Kathleen Hamilton, a support worker who tells her what is going on in the classroom.

"Where a sighted teacher would glare at a child or signal them to do things such as sit down, Kathleen does this and then tells me about it later.

"If children ignore her or she is constantly signalling, then she will tell me and I would then step in. Pupils occasionally try to take advantage of the fact I am blind, but it is nothing personal, and is the kind of thing that can happen in any class."

Ms. Arnot said she would encourage those with disabilities to enter the teaching profession. "You have to have determination, be prepared to put more work in to keep pace with sighted colleagues, and fight for the support you need, but if you are prepared to do this, then the job is worth it."

Reprinted from the Herald, Glasgow, Scotland, April 17, 2007: {http://www.theherald.co.uk}

Reproduced with the permission of The Herald, Glasgow (c) 2007 Herald & Times Group.

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