The government’s new education white paper is a “major attack” on mainstream schools that are committed to inclusion and will undermine the protection given to disabled children under the special educational needs (SEN) framework, say campaigners.
The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) this week raised a series of concerns about the white paper, saying they would have a “negative impact” on schools that want to promote diversity and equality.
The white paper includes measures that will allow schools to permanently exclude pupils even after independent appeal panels have called for them to be reinstated.
Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, said this proposal was “very dangerous”, as children with SEN were eight times more likely to be excluded than children without SEN.
Although the school will be responsible for providing alternative provision for excluded children, ALLFIE said there were real concerns over what this provision would be.
The white paper also plans to move away from coursework and towards end-of-year exams in GCSEs and A-levels, which ALLFIE said would “prevent many disabled children from gaining merit for their achievements” through assessments.
Aspis said she was also worried at proposals to label schools as “failing” if fewer than 35 per cent of pupils achieve a basic standard of five good GCSEs – including maths and English – and if primary schools fail to achieve certain targets for English and maths.
Labelling schools as failing simply because their pupils do not achieve these “arbitrary” targets would be “absolutely devastating for schools who welcome disabled and non-disabled children alike”, she said.
Aspis said this was likely to lead to increasing discrimination against disabled children, with the possibility of schools barring them from admission because of the possible impact on their exam results.
Aspis said ALLFIE was also concerned at the white paper’s focus on the importance of academic qualifications over vocational qualifications, which “will be again perceived as second best”, as will the achievements of disabled learners.
And she said there were concerns that the white paper’s call for more teacher training to be done in the classroom could sideline opportunities to learn the vital theory around how to work with disabled children.
Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s director, said: “The proposals do nothing to bring fairness to those young people who are currently failed by the education system. In fact, they increase the divide.
“What happened to the government commitment to the ‘Big Society’ being an inclusive society?”
The white paper also says the government will allow special schools to apply to become academies – publicly-funded independent schools that are free from council control – from January 2011.
Further detail around measures on SEN will be included in a government green paper, expected to be published before the end of the year.
30 November 2010