During last night’s prime ministerial television debate David Cameron referred to our exchange over Special Educational Needs as having taken place ‘on the street’.
The meeting was of course set up 'on the street' by Cameron’s staff , possibly to get a photo with a disabled child and his father. They certainly asked me on the way over to Cameron’s car - where we were instructed by the party official to wait for him - whether we would mind having a few photos taken. If so, I don't hold that against him. He is a politician and this is an election campaign.
Following Brown’s ‘bigotgate’ incident, quite a few journalists, and last night’s Politics Show, have speculated about what Cameron said in the car as he left after our exchange. I too have been wondering more and more as the days pass. During our exchange Cameron promised to meet with me and other parents of disabled children. One of his staff took my number promising to call. But there has been no contact from CCHQ or Cameron's office at all. Neither did Cameron’s staff discuss the party’s policy with me after the event as some newspapers reported they did (which now leads me to wonder where the newspapers got that impression from, and if anyone briefed them that this had taken place).
Channel 4 Fact Checked what Cameron said in response and found that it wasn’t in fact true . Cameron said his manifesto “absolutely” did not suggest the emphasis towards educating disabled children in mainstream schools would be ended. But as FactCheck concludes: “But that’s exactly what it says”.
Since Tuesday I have been inundated by messages from parents of disabled children, and disabled people, asking me to raise their concerns with David Cameron if we meet. I have promised that I will. They are greatly concerned that the Conservatives are not in fact offering true choice as they claim they are.
There have been two big recurring themes, and both directly address the idea of 'choice' which David Cameron is saying he is offering. The first comes from those parents who have struggled desperately to get their children into mainstream school, and then to keep them there, feeling that schools need to be made much more inclusive. The second comes from parents who feel there is no alternative in mainstream schools for their child, and so have only felt they have the option of special schools.
But there are no proposals from the Conservatives to make inclusion work more effectively in existing mainstream schools which could potentially address both concerns. And as such they are not representing the needs of thousands of families. If the Conservatives are to offer real "choice" as they claim, they are going to have to address this issue. As time moves on however, I believe less and less that this was a serious concern for David Cameron as he was being driven away.