Government secretly ‘opens the floodgates’ into special schools


newslatestThe government has secretly “opened the floodgates” that will see increasing numbers of disabled children being forced into special schools, say campaigners for inclusive education.

They spoke out as the children and families bill completed its committee stage in the House of Lords.

The bill will introduce new health and care plans (HCPs) for disabled children and young people, lasting from birth to the age of 25, replacing statements of special educational need (SEN).

The coalition has already introduced a measure into the main part of the bill that will allow disabled children who do not have high enough support needs for an HCP to still be admitted to special academies.

But the government has now made a change through the regulations that support the bill that appears to allow such children and young people to be admitted to any special school – and not just academies – as long as the placement is reviewed by the local authority at the end of every term.

In making this change, the government is removing the parts of the 1996 Education Act which prevent children without statements being placed in special schools, according to the Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE).

Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s director, said such children would have to rely on their school’s own budget for reasonable adjustments if they wanted to stay in mainstream education.

She said: “If you put that in the context of austerity, as the cuts start to take hold, what is considered reasonable now, in six or 12 or 18 months will – with a cut in the budget – not be considered reasonable.

“The much easier option will be just to shove that person – who doesn’t have an HCP – into the local special school.”

Because the child will not have an HCP, she said, they will not have the right to appeal to a tribunal against their placement.

Flood said: “The potential is enormous for local authorities and schools to say, ‘You know what? We haven’t got the money.’

“You are relying on the school’s own reasonable adjustment budget. It is hugely, hugely damaging.”

But ALLFIE has also raised the alarm over another hidden move by the coalition that would make it harder for disabled children and young people to access mainstream education.

Large parts of the current Inclusive Schooling guidance, which offers advice on including children with SEN in mainstream schools, appear to have been dropped from the code of practice which accompanies the bill, which is due to receive its report stage in the Lords on 9 December.

In a letter to supporters, launching a petition it aims to hand to the government, Flood says the changes “are threatening to turn back the clock for disabled children and young people with SEN by placing them back into special schools”.

She adds: “Removing this guidance will waste over 20 years of painstaking development in the field of inclusion, leaving the coast clear for the rapid expansion of separate and privatised schools and colleges which is already underway.

“Parents will lose confidence in the ability of the mainstream to make safe and appropriate arrangements for their children, and will feel they have no option but to accept segregation.”

Among the guidance omitted from the new code of practice is a statement of the local authority’s strategic role in developing inclusion.

Flood said she was “hugely concerned” by this omission. “Without that, who will monitor what is happening? Ofsted won’t, the schools won’t… the government certainly won’t.”

Another omission is the rule that councils can only refuse to provide mainstream education in a small minority of cases.

ALLFIE says the new code of practice fails to reflect the presumption that a child should have a mainstream education, and weakens the SEN framework that has traditionally supported disabled children and young people with SEN in mainstream education.

The Department for Education has so far not responded to a request for a comment on the concerns raised by ALLFIE.

28 November 2013