Yesterday, Debs took part in a Radio 5 Live live broadcast entitled “Do Children with SEN get a fair deal?’. One of the other people taking part was Nigel Utton, the head teacher of Bromstone Primary School (recognised nationally as one of the most inclusive schools). Nigel is involved with the ALLiance For Inclusive Education. Katie has been engaged with ALLFIE for many years through her daughter, who is also a member, so as Debs was busy chatting, Katie contacted her colleagues at the Alliance and asked them to give us some information about their organisation so we could share with other families and practitioners.
Since the General Election in 2010, the Government’s own statistics show that there has been a gradual increase in the numbers of disabled children and young people with SEN being redirected into segregated education. This decline in the numbers of disabled children and young people with SEN being included in mainstream can be linked directly the Coalition Government plan to ‘reverse what they call ‘the bias towards inclusion’.
There is no doubt that disabled children and young people with SEN and their families are facing an unprecedented attack on their right to be included in mainstream education not to mention the wider attacks on support services, benefits etc. Over the past 3 years, ALLFIE our members and our networks have lobbied very hard to minimise these attacks particularly in relation to the speeding train that is the Academies programme, qualification reforms, huge cuts in education support services, greater autonomy for schools re admissions and exclusions and now the Children and Families Act.
There is of course some aspects of the Act that we cautiously welcome – extending the SEN framework from 0 to 25 years shifting the cliff face from 16 or 19 to 25; streamlining the statementing process into an Education Health & Care Plan, but sadly missing the opportunity to place a duty of each of these providers to a jointly fund support; and the extension of personal budgets to include education support, but allowing education providers to veto a family/young person’s request to have the money to buy in their own support in place of direct services.
Even though the Children & Families Act has managed to hang onto the ‘presumption for mainstream’ principle, this principle is significantly undermined by Clause 33 allowing disabled children without statements (soon to be Education Health & Care Plans) to be shifted from mainstream schools to segregated settings outside the SEN legal framework – leaving the idea of ‘parental choice’ in tatters!
So what’s to be done….
In such a difficult and hostile climate there have been moments when speed and size of the education reforms has almost overwhelmed us, but what we have noticed is the growth in interest and support there has been for ALLFIE’s vision for a genuinely inclusive education system – a system that welcomes all and values all – when we posted a Change.org petition in December calling on the Government to stop weakening the rights of disabled learners to be included in mainstream education within days the number of signatories reached more 2000 people.
ALLFIE is an alliance of inclusionists run by disabled people with support from our allies – a powerful enough force you would think, but not anymore – and it has become clear over the last three years that it is more and more difficult working separately on the issue of inclusive education. Firstly because the issue is much wider than disability and/or SEN in terms of the diversity of learners who will be marginalised, excluded and devalued by the wider reforms to the existing system of education. Secondly because of the enormity of the task in terms of challenging the speeding train of education reform coming out of Government, whilst attempting to change the conversation away from reaction/response to finding the time and space to think about and plan for a radically different education system that truly include all learners whatever their ability, learning style, background or culture.
We need to continue to focus on challenging the current attacks on inclusion whilst developing partnerships with new and unusual allies, such as the Reclaiming Education Alliance, National Campaign for Education, Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance to build a stronger more diverse resistance that will have a greater impact on this and the next Government post the 2015 election.
So this is really a call out from ALLFIE to all those like-minded organisations, groups, networks and individuals who are passionate about inclusion to get ourselves to together, organise and RESIST!
Debs is one of the co-founders and Directors of Bringing Us Together. She is mum to three child with a variety of SEND and has a great husband.