Campaigners say the government’s plans for reforming the special educational needs (SEN) system will set the fight for inclusive education back 20 years.
The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) said the green paper proposals would “dismantle” the framework of support for disabled learners, and cut the number of children identified as needing that support.
ALLFIE said the proposals would create “many more hurdles” for parents to overcome in finding a school and securing an assessment of their children’s needs and funding for support, and would provide fewer opportunities for challenging the system.
Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s director, said: “These proposals are ill thought out and will take education back 20 years for disabled children and children with SEN.”
Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, said the government’s aim to “remove the bias towards inclusion” would make it even harder for parents fighting through the courts for an inclusive education for their child.
She said that introducing a single education, health and care plan to replace a statement of SEN could expose disabled children to the same restrictions on eligibility that are faced by disabled people trying to secure council-funded care and support.
With many local authorities restricting care services to those with “critical” needs, support for disabled learners could become “even more of a postcode lottery than we have at the moment”, she said.
The veteran inclusive education campaigner Micheline Mason said her first impressions of the green paper were that some of its underlying intentions – to simplify the system and stop parents having to struggle for resources for their children – were “fantastic”.
But Mason – an inclusive education consultant – said the government’s pledge to “end the bias towards inclusion” was “very worrying” and showed that “inclusion as a human rights issue has fallen off the map”.
And she said the government was “unbelievably naive about how things work”, and added: “The idea that personal budgets alone could cover all of a disabled child’s needs is not going to hold water when looked at in detail.”
She said the government needed to be steered towards realistic policies in collaboration with disabled people.
Although the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (CSIE) welcomed the recognition that change to the current system was “long overdue”, it said it was “gravely concerned” at the proposals.
CSIE said it was “hard to justify” the government’s claim that there was a bias towards inclusion as “many parents have told us of the many obstacles they have encountered in seeking a mainstream place for their child”.
And it said proposals to re-introduce anti-inclusion laws that were repealed in 2001 were an “alarming” setback.
These proposals mean parents of children with statements of SEN would not be able to have their preference for any state-funded school – including a mainstream setting – met if it did not meet the needs of the child, was incompatible with the efficient education of other children, or was an inefficient use of resources.
Currently, they can only be turned down if the placement is incompatible with the efficient education of other children. CSIE said “all three seem entirely out of place in 21st century schools”.
To contribute to ALLFIE’s response to the government consultation on the green paper, contact Tara Flood or Simone Aspis.
10 March 2011