Lib Dems and Tories have sold out disabled children

By Jonathan Bartley
May 20, 2010

So despite David Cameron’s promise on national TV to meet with the parents of disabled children who attend mainstream schools, and Channel 4’s FactCheck which showed that the PM didn’t know the contents of his own manifesto with regard to the treatment of disabled children, the Lib Dem-Conservative agreement has taken on board the Tory pledge to “remove the bias toward inclusion” of children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) in mainstream schools (Sec 26).

In full this is what it says:

“We believe the most vulnerable children deserve the very highest quality of care. We will improve diagnostic assessment for schoolchildren, prevent the unnecessary closure of special schools, and remove the bias towards inclusion.”

Note that this isn't just about ending the closure of special schools. In addition they want to end what they see as a 'bias' toward inclusion.

The problem is that the agreement focuses on only one set of disabled children - those who attend special schools. It does nothing at all to help those thousands of children in mainstream contexts, or who want to enter mainstream contexts, who need to have more inclusive schools. As it is, they have to battle just for the right to attend their local school. It will now be far harder, because any emphasis (supposed ‘bias’) which might have helped them will be removed. They will be left even more vulnerable than they were before. There are no proposals whatsoever in the agreement to make life easier for them. They are - to use Cameron's own phrase - the Great Ignored.

What the Tories, and evidently now the Lib Dems, don’t seem to get, is that placing children with SEN in mainstream schools requires a commitment. The Labour policy failed in some cases because it didn’t have that commitment. It confused ‘integration’ with ‘inclusion’. Inclusion is more than integration. It is an active process which requires a school to embrace and value a child with SEN. Simply placing a child in a mainstream school without that commitment leaves the child vulnerable and helps no one.

The belief that “vulnerable children deserve the highest quality care” is entirely inconsistent with the pledge to “remove the bias toward inclusion”. It demonstrates a huge lack of understanding and failure of judgement with regard to the issues involved.

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