The role of research in promoting inclusive education: Reflections from the Pre-Global Disability Summit Workshop

UNESCO / Desrus, B

11/06/2018

Hosted by the Impact Initiative and the REAL Centre at the University of Cambridge, with support from the ESRC Impact Acceleration Award, a two-day ‘Pre-Global Disability Summit Workshop’ held in Cambridge on 26th-27th April brought together 35 individuals from key bi- and multi-lateral agencies and Disabled People’s Organisations together with grantholders funded under the ESRC-DFID Strategic Partnership. The event enabled the building of strong partnerships across stakeholders to create a collective and sustainable agenda to keep disability a high priority in international discussions. It specifically aimed to inform discussions at the Summit to be held in July 2018, and to maintain the momentum beyond this. This event built on the conversations which started in 2016 at Establishing a dialogue on Disability for Higher Impact, held in Cambridge.

The role of robust research in taking the agenda on inclusive education forward cannot be underestimated. Research which adopts a rights-based approach and acknowledges the realities of different contexts is the need of the hour, as noted in many discussions at the workshop. Participants were very positive of the opportunity to engage with different stakeholder groups. Many reflections from the workshop in relation to evidence and its role in informing policy debates resonate with the messages encapsulated in the “Evidence on disability and education: accessing, using and communicating research”.

Thanks to a number of key researchers and country partners from four projects funded under the ESRC-DFID Strategic Partnership which focus on disability and education (and recently published in the Impact Initiative’s ‘ESRC-DFID Research for Policy and Practice: disability and education), discussions were able to consider how research can contribute to the evidence and policy-making loop. One of the main outcomes of workshop was a statement of action endorsed by a number of organisations which will feed into the Global Disability Summit.

We asked a number of participants from a range of organisations (RESULTS UK, DFID, UNICEF, University College London, Sightsavers, Light for the World) to share their reflections on the role research and evidence played in the workshop:

Lucy Drescher is Head of Parliamentary Advocacy at RESULTS UK.  She is one of the co-Chairs of the Bond Disability and Development Group and a member of the Send My Friend to School Campaign Inclusive Education Group.  Her team at RESULTS UK provides the Secretariat for the APPG on Global Education and works closely with the Chair of the group, Stephen Twigg MP. She says that the event ensured that research and evidence was at the centre of discussions:

“The event provided an opportunity to engage more directly with research and evidence on inclusive education by providing the opportunity to spend time with people working on research and development in inclusive education and taking part in discussions with researchers, NGOs and funders. I learnt of relevant research that was I was not particularly aware of before. Being able to interact with researchers meant we were able to make sure that what we discussing was based on evidence and research. Research and evidence is a big part of what is needed to ensure steps are being taken to be made in the area of inclusive education.”

Ian Attfield is the Senior Adviser for Teaching and Learning in DFID’s central Education Policy team. He said the event was valuable because researchers were able to provide insight into knowledge gaps around disability in education:

 “This was a space to really engage with researchers and practitioners and think through the detail of joint ideas and common messaging around disability in education. It was good to discuss the extent to which research communication and dissemination can support country operations and be done most effectively. Researchers offered support around gaps of knowledge of how children with complex needs can be supported; clearly pointing out gaps where research and evidence/data is lacking/not strong – e.g.in student learning assessments. The event helped generate a proposal for key messages and principles to inform and shape Disability Summit 2018 with respect to the theme on inclusive education; and, which considers the development of a collective and sustainable platform for disability and education that will aim to keep disability on the global agenda beyond 2018.”

Mark Waltham is Senior Education Adviser for UNICEF. His primary focus is on issues of access to education, and he is responsible for leading UNICEF’s global Out of School Children Initiative and work on Inclusive Education.  Mark explains the value of creating a space for people to meet and discuss in person:

“The presence of researchers at the event was valuable in helping to inform and shape the principles ahead of the Summit because it created a feedback loop between researchers and practitioners. It is essential to keep the feedback loop going between the research and what practitioners are needing. It was an unusual event because everyone is generally distributed around the world and business is normally done on the phone. The event in Cambridge was really nice as we got to build relationships beyond just a phone call. It meant it was more interactive and community-based and created a good environment to unpack what people are saying. We very rarely get a chance to do this!”

Dr Maria Kett is Head of Research at the Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre and Honorary Reader in Disability and Development at UCL. She is an ESRC-DFID funded grant holder of the project ‘Bridging the Gap: Examining Disability and Development in Four African Countries’ which looks at the relationship between disability and multidimensional poverty in Kenya, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia.  She reflects on the helpfulness of interacting with policymakers and hearing their views on the kind of research they are looking for:

“It was great to meet fellow grantees - having the space to share research learnings but also to meet with practitioners (NGOs) and policy makers is really invaluable; you can try to do that as a researcher but having a formalised space is hugely important. Bringing together of the different stakeholders also has value. It’s not always possible to have the right level of communication needed so to have DFID represented - for example - was really invaluable. It was useful to understand how our research can make policymakers lives easier and what they need. As researchers we can struggle with this a bit, so it’s good to hear directly from them what is useful.”

Nafisa Baboo is the Senior Inclusive Education Advisor for Light for the World, an international NGO promoting the rights of people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups in the poorest parts of the world. For Nafisa, it was important that robust, contextual evidence was reflected during the workshop:

“It was good to hear different views and the mix of participants was excellent. Having researchers at the event was valuable because in this field we are usually influenced by anecdotal evidence.  The workshop was structured in such a way that the framework for thinking and responding ensured it was constructive.”

Dr ELena Schmidt is Director of Strategic Programme Development, Innovations, Evidence and Research for Sightsavers. The University of Birmingham (UoB) and Sightsavers International, funded by the ESRC-DFID Raising Learning Outcomes Programme, work collaboratively on the ‘Let’s Grow Together’ project which looks at promoting greater inclusion of children with disabilities in ECD centres in rural Malawi. Elena describes the benefits of sharing her research with different agencies:

“It was really helpful to identify current research gaps as well as questions, commonalities and difference between different agencies – who is doing/funding what work where etc. The workshop was a great opportunity to share views in this mixed forum; and, specifically identify gaps in research and practice where NGOs and academics have to focus going forward.The workshop provided a space to share what we already know around inclusive education and profile us (the researchers) and the research. It was also great to get feedback from the other stakeholders present and to have discussions on where to go next (with the research i.e. research directions to fill gaps). It was a great opportunity to see what is going on in others work and the inclusive disability landscape.”