Inclusive education ‘just a lottery for disabled children’, says report


newslatestThe least-inclusive local authority in the country is seven times more likely to send a child to a special school than the best-performing council, according to new research.

In the latest of a series of reports stretching back to 1983, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (CSIE) says its research shows a continued “postcode lottery” for disabled children’s inclusion in mainstream schools.

The report looks at figures from 2007 to 2013, and says that the most inclusive local authority in England last year was once again Newham, in east London, which sends just two in every 1,000 children aged 0-19 to a special school.

Newham has been the local authority with the smallest percentage of pupils in segregated settings since 1999.

In contrast, Torbay council sends 14 children in every 1,000 to a special school (the average across England is 8 in every 1,000, or 0.8 per cent).

This means that a child from Torbay is seven times more likely to be sent to a segregated school than one from Newham.

CSIE’s report, carried out with researchers from the University of Exeter, also found – for the first time since 1983 – that there had been a “modest” rise in the proportion of children with a statement of special educational needs (SEN) being sent to special schools.

Tara Flood, director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education, said the report confirmed that the previous trend towards inclusion was now in reverse, and added: “There is no doubt that the trend over the next five years will decline even further, due to the changes in the new Children and Families Act.”

Flood said that opening up special academies to children who did not have one of the new education, health and care plans – set to replace statements of special educational needs – would be certain to add to this trend.

She added: “The report is welcome but it misses a lot of qualitative stuff that would really help us understand what makes it possible for a local authority to reduce [segregation]at a time when disabled kids are increasingly being put into special schools.”

Flood said that the next CSIE report would be “really telling”.

She said: “I think there will be a sharp decline in the number of children in mainstream schools. The Children and Families Act has thrown open a whole new door to segregation.”

Dr Artemi Sakellariadis, CSIE’s director, said: “The extent of local variation is staggering, considering the same laws and national policies apply to all local authorities.

“It is vital that these glaring discrepancies are more widely known. This information will help parents negotiate a more inclusive education for their child and support the efforts of those lobbying for the right of disabled children to a mainstream education that works for them.”

In 2007, 0.75 per cent of pupils were placed in special schools, but by 2013 this had risen to 0.8 per cent. This represents a rise from 92,845 pupils in 2007 to 101,590 in special schools by 2013.

Previous reports showed a reduction in the proportion of pupils attending special schools throughout the 1980s and 1990s, with the level then remaining constant for the next decade.

In 2007, there were 12 local authorities where the proportion of students in special schools was below 0.5 per cent. By 2013, there were just five.

The five local authorities with the best record on inclusion in 2013, according to CSIE, were Newham, Cornwall, City of York, Rutland and Somerset, while the worst-performing councils were South Tyneside, Knowsley, Middlesbrough, Wirral and Torbay.

Sir Robin Wales, Newham’s Labour elected mayor, said: “We’re pleased that our work to provide an inclusive education for children with special education needs has been recognised in the latest Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education report.

“Funding for special educational needs in Newham enables mainstream schools to support children with a wide range of needs, including children with complex learning difficulties and autism.

“This ensures that children can attend schools in their community and get the support they need to reach their potential.”

The Department for Education declined to answer questions from Disability News Service about the report and the trend towards segregation, but a spokesman said that it “will be happy to consider the contents of the report in full”.

He said in a statement: “Children with special educational needs should be educated in a school which best meet their requirements. For most children this is a mainstream school.

“It is for local authorities in conjunction with parents to make decisions about what is best for individual children based on their specific needs.

“We expect local authorities to work closely with parents to offer the most appropriate education for their children.”

Torbay council has so far refused to comment.

27 March 2014