Three disabled people’s organisations have asked the education secretary why he is refusing to scrap controversial measures that handed him the power to restrict disabled children’s right to education.
Ministers insist that the powers, which were introduced a year ago through the government’s Coronavirus Act, are still needed as an “important contingency”.
The act was reviewed by MPs last Thursday, but the government refused to scrap the education powers, even though it agreed to remove similar measures affecting disabled people’s rights to care and support under the Care Act.
The measures give education secretary Gavin Williamson the power to amend parts of the Children and Families Act (CFA) 2014 so that a local council only has to use “reasonable endeavours” to provide the education, health and care (EHC) needs named in a disabled pupil’s EHC plan.
They also give the education secretary the power to amend the act so that a school would no longer have a duty to admit a disabled child if that school is named in the child’s EHC plan.
Some local authorities and schools took advantage of the CFA “easements” last year when Williamson introduced them, but there are concerns that some local authorities and schools are still acting as though they are in place, even though they have not been switched on since last July.
Labour’s shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, told MPs last week that Labour remained concerned that the CFA measures were still in the act.
And Caroline Nokes, the Conservative chair of the Commons women and equalities committee, urged the government “to reconsider and to remove these unneeded easements”.
Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova secured a response from education minister Vicky Ford this week to a written question about the CFA measures.
Ford told her that ministers do not “consider it appropriate at this stage to remove the power to issue notices relating to the law on EHC plans”.
She said: “Use of the power was and remains an important contingency to use swiftly in the event of local authorities, health bodies and education settings again needing flexibility to prioritise their resources in response to the changing demands of the outbreak.”
The Alliance for Inclusive Education, Disability Rights UK (DR UK), Inclusion London and the human rights organisation Liberty have now written to Williamson to ask him to remove the CFA measures from the Coronavirus Act.
The letter tells Williamson that his government “must leave no child behind in its pandemic response – and that includes disabled children and young people” and that he needs to repeal the CFA measures “in the interests of clarity, fairness, and equity”.
In the letter, they also warn him that neither local authorities nor schools “are consistently complying with their duties to arrange provision for disabled children within either school or home settings”, even though the CFA measures are not currently switched on.
Fazilet Hadi, DR UK’s head of policy, said this week: “There is no consistency in scrapping the Care Act easements and keeping the CFA easements.
“It is just plain wrong that we are putting back the human rights of disabled adults but not those of disabled children.”
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