The government has finally admitted that it failed to assess the impact on disabled children and young people of its “discriminatory” plans to expand grammar schools in England.
The Department for Education (DfE) has previously refused to say if it carried out an equality impact assessment (EIA) on its consultation paper, Schools That Work For Everyone, which includes plans to remove the ban on opening new grammar schools in England.
The consultation paper fails to include a single mention of disabled children and young people.
Inclusive education campaigners say that expanding grammar schools – secondary schools which select pupils via an entrance test – will discriminate against disabled children and lead to more segregated education in special schools.
Laws currently ban any new selective schools and prevent existing non-selective schools from becoming selective, but the government wants to expand existing grammar schools, create new selective schools and allow non-selective schools to become selective.
A DfE response to a freedom of information request submitted by Disability News Service (DNS) last November insisted that the department was continuing to have “due regard” to the equalities impact of its plans, but refused to say whether it had carried out an EIA.
After that response was challenged by DNS, the government has now finally admitted that it failed to carry out an EIA of its grammar school plans.
The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) was highly critical of the failure to carry out an EIA, and said the government’s plans would impact on “any disabled young person who struggles with how learning is currently tested”.
Tara Flood (pictured), ALLFIE’s director, said the plans would have a “fundamental impact” and were not “just a small tweaking of the edges of the educational system”.
She said: “This is about elitism and increased inequality and they didn’t think that an impact assessment would be a very useful element of their strategy.
“This is really about saying that disabled children and young people with special educational needs just don’t figure in their plans, except for greater numbers going into special provision.”
She said the consultation paper reflected the government’s current position of “absolute denial” of the impact of its reforms, and its continuing commitment to the pledge made by Tory MP Michael Gove in 2009 that a Conservative government would rebuild the special school sector.
The government’s existing education policies over the last six years have led to a steady increase in the number of disabled children being educated in special schools, says ALLFIE.
Flood said: “They are only really concerned about what they consider to be the group of pupils who are able to learn in a robust and standards-driven system.”
ALLFIE believes the government’s plans are a clear breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with new UN guidance – through a “general comment”, adopted last August – making it clear that all segregated education should end and be replaced by “inclusive classroom teaching in accessible learning environments with appropriate supports”.
Flood said: “Everything is in denial of the UN convention, the general comment and any kind of understanding about how equality can be achieved.”
She called on campaigners concerned about the government’s plans to contact ALLFIE and “help us build a real resistance to the government’s plans to find more ways to remove disabled children and young people from the [mainstream]system”.
She said there was a “groundswell of support building” for opposition to the government’s plans, and that ALLFIE’s campaigning was helping to persuade mainstream campaigners who oppose expanding grammar schools that this would also have a substantial impact on disabled children and young people.
There are currently 163 grammar schools in England, educating about five per cent of state secondary pupils, while 10 local authorities have wholly selective education systems and another 26 have one or more grammar schools in their area.
Disabled children with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) or statements of special educational needs represent only 0.1 per cent of grammar school pupils, despite making up 1.8 per cent of the secondary school population, while disabled children without statements or EHCPs still make up only 4.2 per cent of grammar school pupils, but 12.4 per cent of all secondary school pupils.