Minister faces schools inclusion questions


A schools minister has faced a series of critical questions on what the government is doing to improve mainstream education for disabled children.

Diana Johnson MP was speaking to a joint meeting of parliamentary groups on disability, children, autism and youth affairs.

She told the meeting that £340 million had been allocated to improve short breaks, community equipment and wheelchair provision, and palliative care, through the child health strategy earlier this year.

The same sum was allocated to improve council services over the same period of 2008-11, through the Aiming High for Disabled Children (AHDC) programme.

Johnson said that in 2008-09, in 21 pathfinder areas developing best practice in short breaks, there were nearly 13,000 more overnight breaks than in 2007-08, and 376,000 more hours of daytime short break provision, although AHDC was not yet “embedded throughout the country”.

But Baroness [Jane] Campbell asked what plans the government had for improving inclusion into mainstream education for disabled children, as they “still have to fight to get into mainstream schools” and many schools are “still not accessible to the standard that should be met under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)”.

Caroline Ellis, joint deputy chief executive of RADAR, asked whether the minister was in favour of including, in the new equality bill, a right for support for disabled pupils by ensuring they have access to auxiliary aids and services, as recommended by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC).

But Johnson said she was “not sure the equality bill would be the best place” for such an amendment and that it was “something we need to have a look at and see what is the best way of taking that forward”.

Ellis also raised concerns about the potential “watering-down” of the disability equality duty in the equality bill.

And she said many schools had not even bothered to draw up a disability equality scheme.

After the meeting, a Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) spokesman said the government was working with schools and local authorities to raise awareness of schools’ duties under the DDA, including visits, workshops and an “easy to understand pamphlet” being circulated to teachers.

He said the DCSF had also introduced a minimum design standard for secondary schools, which includes regulations on disabled facilities, as well as “clear school design guidance to make sure that all buildings have good facilities for children with disabilities and special educational needs”.

3 November 2009