Anger over government’s plans for 37 new special schools

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Inclusive education campaigners have condemned the government’s announcement that it is funding 37 new special free schools, with segregated institutions for disabled children set to be opened in every part of England.

The announcement by education secretary Damian Hinds means there will be nearly 3,500 more free school places in segregated settings.

There will also be two alternative provision free schools, for children who have been, or are at risk of being, excluded from mainstream education.

Hinds’ announcement comes 18 months after the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities was highly critical of the UK government’s record on inclusive education.

When the committee published its “concluding observations” on the progress the UK had made in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in August 2017, it was highly critical of the UK government’s approach, and the “persistence of a dual education system” that segregates increasing numbers of disabled children in special schools.

It called instead for a “coherent strategy” on “increasing and improving inclusive education”, which would include raising awareness of – and support for – inclusive education among parents of disabled children.

But The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) said the government had instead continued its ideological drive towards more segregation.

It said it “condemns the government’s mass expansion of segregated education” while at the same time “cutting mainstream school budgets”.

Simone Aspis (pictured), ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns co-ordinator, said: “This is no longer about austerity and cuts – this government’s ideological drive is towards the dogma of investing in more segregated provision despite its association with poorer educational, employment and emotional outcomes. 

“The government continues to ignore the evidence that good mainstream education provision is more likely to produce better outcomes for disabled pupils and that mainstream schools are the first preference of parents. 

“The establishment of special schools with poorer outcomes for disabled children is in breach of the government’s obligation to promote disabled children’s human right to inclusive education under UNCRPD article 24, which requires the development of a fully inclusive education system for all.”

Hinds said in a statement: “We want every school to be a school for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

“That’s why we are investing significant funding into special education needs units attached to mainstream schools and in additional support so children with education, health and care plans can access mainstream education.

“But we recognise some children require more specialist support.

“These new special free schools and alternative provision schools will make sure that more complex needs can be provided to help support every child to have a quality education.”

The government’s announcement was welcomed by the Council for Disabled Children (CDC).

Dame Christine Lenehan, CDC’s director, said: “We are pleased to welcome the new wave of special free schools and the extra choice they will bring to the system for children with special educational needs.”

Tara Flood, director of ALLFIE, criticised CDC’s support for the government’s announcement.

She said: “We are very, very disappointed about how the CDC have toed the government line over and above the human rights of disabled children and young people to be included in the mainstream.

“Of course, when ALLFIE is talking about including in mainstream we do not mean tweaks to the current system.

“This is about an education system that reflects the spirit and tone of article 24.

“If only CDC had the same values.”

Applications for potential providers will now open in the 39 local authorities that bid successfully for a special or alternative provision school to be opened in their area.

Of the special schools, there will be three in the north-east, six in the north-west, five in Yorkshire and the Humber, one in the East Midlands, four in the West Midlands, four in the east of England, five in London, three in the south-east, and six in the south-west, while the two alternative provision schools will be opened in the West Midlands.

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