This morning, my son Samuel had an appointment at the Evelina children’s hospital. We arrived early for the appointment and saw the TV crews and their vans just around the corner, so went over to watch David Cameron’s speech that was being shown in one of the TV vans.
Whilst we were watching, a Conservative party official came up to us and asked if Samuel and I would like to meet David when he had finished speaking. We said that we would and duly waited. The party official then came to get us, and took us outside the exit where David Cameron was to emerge after his speech. The Conservative leader was then brought over to us, and I explained my concerns about the Conservative’s plans for children with Special Educational Needs.
I, and many other parents of children with special educational needs, have been concerned about the pledge in the Tory manifesto to “end the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools". We personally had to battle  for two years to get our son into our local school, which his two sisters attend.
It cost us thousands of pounds to go to a tribunal, which we then won. The Local Authority then said they would appeal against the decision to the high court. At that point, the Secretary of State intervened, and paid for some modifications to the school. Samuel now attends the school.
To say that there is a “bias toward the inclusion of children with special educational needs” is to entirely misunderstand what is actually going on. David Cameron said, during our exchange this morning, that he had written that part of the manifesto himself. He also spoke of his own experience with his son.
I have absolutely no doubt that David Cameron’s heart is in the right place, and have immense sympathy for what his has experienced personally. But I also believe that his own experience should not be the main determinant of his party’s position.
This, at the end of the day, is a question of both resourcing and culture. Either we are for inclusion or we aren’t. To include children with special needs in mainstream schools takes commitment and a lot of work. Indeed, it requires “bias” - which has actually been lacking in the education system, despite all the talk of inclusion from Labour.
There are few parents of children with special educational needs who would not want their children to attend their local school with brothers and sisters and friends, provided that the school is properly resourced, equipped and able to successfully include their children.
The problem of the last few years has been that mainstream schools have not been equipped well enough to be able to show parents and others that they can work for children with SEN. The 'move toward inclusion' has been half-hearted. Many parents have been let down, and many feel therefore that they have to opt for special schools. It is the symptom, rather than the actual underlying problem which David Cameron is seeking to address. Indeed, he has made a misdiagnosis of what is actually going on, which will directly impact many families.
David Cameron has offered to meet me and discuss it further. I have asked that I bring other parents whose experience is like mine, from groups like Parents for Inclusion  and Alliance for inclusive education . But this, in many senses, is too late. The Tories are right now seeking election on their manifesto pledge.
You can read Channel 4's Factcheck on what David Cameron said in response here: http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/2010/04/27/tory-manifesto-favours-sp... 
[Update: 16.46 I am getting emails now like this:
Dear Mr Bartley
You do not know me but after seeing you on tv today re your son and his education problems I thought you may like to see what I sent only this week to ****** in the hope that he would show this to senior Tories. I think us parents should form some kind of group to tackle this bullying by LEAs and like you, we have had our struggles. Anyway, just wanted to make contact. My son is 13, has been successfully educated at home and part time in mainstream school and still they are trying to push him into special school!
Please let me know what you think. Well done for putting your point across.]
[We have worked sooo hard to get our daughter out of Special School and into Mainstream. Amy is now 12 (with severe and complex needs) and has been in mainstream for four years and it has been a battle all along with half hearted attempts and maladministration of funds but we will never give up fighting for what is right for our child to show others how it can be done. What we have fought for has already helped those that have followed. Thank you so much for your strong passionate, articulate voice, a voice for many.]
[I'm sure you'll be innundated with emails/calls today but just wanted to say it was great to see you on tv today and thank you so much for giving parents like us a voice and bringing some publicity to this issue. I'm not sure whether you know that our first child, Callum, has autism (it's amazing how life turns out in ways you can't plan for!) and we have had a huge battle with schooling. This is the main reason we left London as it was impossible to get progress with Lambeth and our local school (St Julians) made it quite clear they wouldn't accept Callum.
I have spent much of my time since moving to Cambridgeshire, fighting for local mainstream provision with trained support for my child. Thankfully we are now in a good place - he attends the local school with his sister. Callum has an excellent TA and is making good progress but it has been a hard, stressful and very wearing fight for our family. We are soon to embark on the next battle as we have to consider secondary stage in the next year. We have also spent quite alot of time working with our local church, other Cambridgeshire churches and now the Diocese of Ely on inclusion issues within the church and this has been an interesting experience/challenge too!
Thank you so much for speaking out, challenging and raising the importance of this key issue. I have just returned from local hustings tonight and this topic was again raised so you have definitely created a buzz.]