A prominent disabled activist has spoken of her “bittersweet” feelings at leaving the organisation that leads the fight for inclusive education after nearly 13 years.
Tara Flood (pictured) is to leave The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), where she has been director since 2006, for a new post leading strategy on co-production at a pioneering London council.
Her task as strategic head for co-production at Hammersmith and Fulham council will be to implement the recommendations of last year’s ground-breaking report on co-production, which had been commissioned by the London borough.
She will work with fellow disabled activist Kevin Caulfield, chair of Hammersmith and Fulham Coalition against Cuts, who works as a policy and strategy officer at the council.
Flood said she was leaving ALLFIE in a much stronger position than when she had arrived in 2006, when it had just seven months of funding left.
She said: “This organisation is much more confident about what it believes in. We have a much higher profile.
“As an organisation, we are rock solid on our principles, even in the face of extreme anti-inclusive rhetoric.
“It’s probably our absolute strength that this organisation never shies away from saying the difficult stuff, because it’s the stuff we know that people need to hear and need to understand.”
But she said she was leaving ALLFIE at a time when the environment on inclusive education was “far more hostile” than when she had arrived.
Although the “last knockings of New Labour” had seen the government place a reservation and an interpretive declaration against article 24 – on inclusive education – of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities when it ratified the treaty in 2009, government policy had become far more hostile to inclusive education since 2010, she said.
She said: “From 2010 there has been a deliberate and consistent dismantling of any progress that has been made in this country towards a more inclusive education system.
“That has been done publicly, it’s been done with real confidence by a government whose ideology is so opposed to equality and human rights.
“They don’t try to dress it up as anything else.”
Although the “burn-out” she felt after years of tackling this “onslaught” led to a sabbatical last year, to Finland and Canada – two countries where there have been attempts to shift away from segregated education – she said that was not the reason she was leaving ALLFIE.
First, she said, she was ready for a new challenge after 13 years. But she also wanted to “finish the job” in Hammersmith and Fulham.
She chaired the Hammersmith and Fulham Disabled People’s Commission that produced last year’s report and co-wrote it with Caulfield.
She said: “Now is the opportunity to realise all of that change that we set out in that report. It’s too good an opportunity to miss.”
The report is wide-ranging, and it concentrates not just on areas such as social care and education that are usually associated with disabled people’s services, but on “everything the council does”.
And it is not just about council services, she said.
One of the report’s recommendations is about building the capacity of the community and supporting disabled people to be co-producers, and about supporting disabled people’s organisations in the borough to work with disabled residents to be ready to co-produce policy decisions and service delivery with the council.
Flood said her new role would be “a challenge”.
She said: “I think we will meet resistance, potentially at every stage. Very few people do not struggle with fundamental change, particularly in sectors where the traditional approach to disabled people has been very, very well-embedded.
“But the change is already underway, and I wouldn’t have taken the job if I thought this was just a token gesture.”
One of the tasks she will face, she said, will be in education, where she said she would need to challenge the council to move towards inclusion.
But she has already been encouraged by the co-production role played by disabled people in the planning application to redevelop Hammersmith town hall and the surrounding area.
And she said she was encouraged by the council’s moves away from a focus on personal budgets and towards the adoption of an independent living strategy.
Flood said her thoughts about leaving ALLFIE were “bittersweet”, despite the excitement of her new role, because she felt the tide may finally be turning in the battle against the government’s anti-inclusion policies.
Not only is ALLFIE’s membership increasing, but there has been a string of judicial review cases taken by parents challenging attempts to have their disabled children thrown out of mainstream schools.
In the short-term, ALLFIE is set to make an interim appointment while its trustees choose a permanent replacement for Flood.
She believes ALLFIE will benefit from a fresh approach on income generation from a new director, particularly because it is campaigning for social change in an area opposed by the government, which she said was “a double whammy”.
She is also hopeful about Labour’s new shadow minister responsible for special educational needs, the disabled MP Emma Lewell-Buck, who visited ALLFIE last month for a discussion with Flood.
Flood said: “We were really honest with her about our disappointment about how lacking in detail Labour have been since they recommitted to inclusive education at the party conference last September.
“We really hope that with Emma at the helm we will see a new approach to how Labour talk about inclusive education and putting some detail into their policy of a national education service.
“It’s a relationship that we have started and we intend to build and she seems to really understand what it is we are trying to do and she is a disabled person herself and has her own story to tell about her own education.”
Flood will also leave as ALLFIE puts the finishing touches to a new version of its manifesto for inclusive education and is planning a private members’ bill that she hopes will act as “a vehicle to build political relationships and support”.
She said the thought of leaving later this month was “awful”.
She said: “I feel ALLFIE is so part of me and I hope that I am part of ALLFIE and I think I am, and I will be really sad to leave, but I think ALLFIE is in a very different, better, stronger place than when I started.
“We have an amazing staff team, we are very clear about our vision, we can articulate it with well-evidenced examples, and we are never swayed from our commitment to inclusive education and the ending of segregation, and that’s an amazing achievement in such difficult times.
“I hope that as its director I have helped that happen.”
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