Westminster’s newest disabled MP has been criticised after attacking the “dogmatic” views of campaigners for inclusive education.
The Conservative MP Paul Maynard – believed to be the first former special school pupil to become an MP – spent two years at a special school from the age of three, before spending the rest of his education in mainstream schools.
He told Disability News Service: “Saying we need to have inclusion because segregating people is wrong overlooks the fact that some people may need specialist provision, which is only available in special needs schools.”
The new MP’s views mirror those laid out by his party in its general election manifesto, which pledged to “end the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools” and called for a “moratorium on the ideologically-driven closure of special schools”.
Maynard, who received two years of intensive therapy in a special school before transferring to a mainstream primary school, where he received several years of speech therapy, said he had “seen both sides of the coin”.
But Tara Flood, chief executive of the Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), said his comments were “unhelpful” and his experience was very different from “the majority of special school survivors”.
She said: “I don’t think two years at the very beginning of his life can really be the basis of support for special schools. He had the benefit of a full, full-time, formal mainstream education.”
She said research showed that time spent in a special school had a lifetime negative impact, with former special school pupils less likely to move on to further and higher education or to be in work.
Maynard, the MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, said: “We need to stop trying to fit children into this tick-box approach and build services around the needs of each child.”
When asked why such provision could not be provided in a mainstream setting, he pointed to a special school in his constituency, which had a “fantastic hydrotherapy suite”.
He said: “I do not think you can expect public money to fund fantastic hydrotherapy facilities in each mainstream school just to facilitate an ideologically-based inclusion agenda.
“Would that we had a money tree in the garden. In the age of tighter public spending, it is even harder still.”
But Flood said it was not cost-effective to have such expensive facilities in special schools, either.
She said: “It cannot be cost-effective that the reason someone goes to a segregated environment is to access a warmer-than-usual swimming pool.”
Flood said Maynard’s experience was “fundamentally different” to that of those disabled people who spent their entire education in special schools.
She added: “We would be delighted to work with Mr Maynard to help him understand that.”
1 July 2010