Labour conference: Party will move ‘towards’ fully inclusive education system


A Labour government would aim to move – in the long term – towards an education system that is “fully inclusive” of disabled children according to the MP who has led its review into special educational needs (SEN).

Sharon Hodgson told Disability News Service (DNS) that she believed that a fully inclusive system of mainstream schools could be achieved “in a future when all the balls line up”.

But she added: “The problem is we can’t go there yet. So many parents went down the special school route because they can’t find a [mainstream]school that meets their needs.”

She said she believed that every child should have the opportunity to attend a mainstream school and that “each school should be able to take every child and every child should have the option to go to whatever mainstream school is suitable for them”.

At the same time, she said, there was currently still a role for special schools, for parents who do not believe there is a mainstream school that can meet their child’s needs.

But she said her party’s SEN policy would be one that was moving towards a more inclusive system.

She said: “In time, you can definitely move towards a far more inclusive education system. Once you are there it is then not such a great leap to go fully inclusive.”

In contrast to the coalition’s pledge to “remove the bias towards inclusion” in education – which was even included in its “programme for government” – she had earlier told a fringe meeting organised by the NASUWT teachers’ union that she believed there was currently “more bias towards exclusion [of disabled children]rather than inclusion”.

And she told the meeting that she understood that it was the prime minister, David Cameron, who had insisted that the “remove the bias” phrase was included in the government’s SEN green paper.

This week, Hodgson announced the first three policies from the review, each designed to move towards a more inclusive mainstream education system.

She said she wanted to see more disabled teachers, with local authorities and central government working to dismantle the barriers that prevent them entering the profession, and making greater use of the Access to Work scheme to provide support for disabled teachers in their workplace.

She told DNS: “They are almost forced out of the profession. It just feels that for whatever reason we have accepted the status quo that people with disabilities don’t teach. I don’t think we should be accepting that.”

She said correcting this would help both disabled and non-disabled children, because “if it is right that children without disabilities should be taught alongside children with disabilities and SEN because it makes them a more rounded person” then it was also right that children should be taught by both disabled and non-disabled teachers.

Hodgson said that disabled teachers would also be excellent role models for disabled children.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, had told the fringe meeting that disabled people were “being forced out of the workforce” because schools did not want to fund the reasonable adjustments they needed.

Hodgson told DNS that the lack of disabled teachers was raised “a number of times” by disabled people and other contributors to the party’s SEN review this summer.

The review will also call for trainee teachers to take a mandatory SEN module in their training, and for one of every five “inset” training days that working teachers have to take every year to be on inclusive SEN practice.

2 October 2012