Spring budget: New free schools funding ‘shows utter disregard for human rights’


New funding for free schools worth hundreds of millions of pounds shows the government has an “utter disregard” for the human rights of disabled children and young people, say campaigners.

Yesterday’s budget saw the government announce £320 million in funding to set up 140 new free schools.

Many of them are likely to be selective institutions, because the government plans to lift the ban on creating new grammar schools.

But there was confusion over the figures, as the budget documents refer to both an “investment of £320 million in this Parliament to help fund up to 140 schools” and also to an investment of just £100 million extra by 2020.

As well as the money in this parliament, the budget documents also show there will be an extra £935 million in new money for more free schools in the two years after the next election*.

Earlier this week, the Department for Education (DfE) also announced an extra £215 million to increase school capacity for disabled children and those with special educational needs.

Every local council has been allocated at least £500,000 from the £215 million of capital spending to “expand and improve” their special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision.

DfE said the money would be used for academies, free schools, grammar schools, special units attached to mainstream schools, special schools, early years and further education settings, and “other provision”.

It could be used, DfE said, to build “new specialised classrooms for children with emotional, social and mental health difficulties, expand existing classrooms to increase their size for those using mobility aids, purchase mobility equipment and even create new storage facilities for wheelchairs”.

In a letter to directors of children’s services, Edward Timpson, minister for vulnerable children and families, says: “Local authorities will need to consider the range of specialist provision available, and how the places available in special schools, special units and resourced provision meet the changing needs of children and young people.”

He says the £215 million will “help local authorities create new school places and improve existing facilities for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities”.

Tara Flood (pictured), director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education, said the free schools announcement was “the work of a government that seems utterly obsessed with segregating young people they think are not suitable for their vision of education”.

She said it was a “shameless” breach of article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which demands an “inclusive education system at all levels”, and showed “an utter disregard for human rights”.

And she said she feared that the £215 million fund would be used mostly to increase segregated, specialist provision, rather than “building the capacity to be more inclusive” in mainstream schools.

Flood said: “The government made a UNCRPD commitment to ‘building the capacity of mainstream education’ but instead has created an anti-inclusion climate that seems to incentivise segregation and exclusion.

“So without a clear inclusion steer from government we are deeply concerned that schools will use the funding to build more segregated provision within mainstream and larger special schools.”

She said that the total funding for both creating new free schools and expanding SEND provision was “going into exactly what schools do not need”.

And she pointed out that the new funding comes after unions have warned that schools in England faced a real-terms £3 billion funding cut by 2020.

Flood said both announcements were further moves towards fulfilling the promise in the Conservative party’s 2010 manifesto to “end the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools”.

Flood said: “There isn’t a single thing that the 2010 and 2015 governments have done that isn’t in line with ‘reversing the bias’.”

Last month, Disability News Service reported that DfE had finally admitted that it had failed to assess the impact on disabled children and young people of its plans to expand grammar schools in England.

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.

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.

New UN guidance – through a “general comment” on the UNCRPD, adopted last August – has made it clear that all segregated education should end and be replaced by “inclusive classroom teaching in accessible learning environments with appropriate supports”.

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.

*The Treasury had not been able to clarify the funding situation by noon today (Thursday)

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