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Inclusion Now Articles Issue 47

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UN Article 24 - ALLFIE Goes to the UN

Residential Special Schools: Paul Doyle talks about his experiences and research

Inclusive Education in Bangladesh

Transforming Educational Systems - Lessons from New Brunswick

General Election 2017

The Geography Story

Costing Equity

Quiet Riot - Freedom Fighters


Legal Question

Editorial [audio]

Who would have thought when we were starting to put together the Summer 2017 edition of Inclusion Now that we would be calling it a General Election Special?

A snap election has been called for the 8th June so we have scanned party manifestos for any promises about inclusion – you will not be surprised that references to inclusion and/or Disabled pupils and students are scant, but there are some.

It feels like there is a growing divide between the inclusion back pedalling here by the UK government and progress in other countries. I am struck by Richard Rieser's articles about inclusive education in Bangladesh where the barriers are huge, and plans for a global funding initiative on inclusive education. Further down there is an inspirational piece on how New Brunswick in Canada decided on achieving 100% inclusive education, and took very practical steps which delivered real and sustainable change.

As a survivor of a residential special school myself I am appalled but not surprised by Paul Doyle's account of his time in a similar setting. He is absolutely right that all young people incarcerated in such settings need a voice, but what they need most is to no longer be separated from their communities - written off by a society that chooses to continually fail young people because we don't easily fit in.

Whatever the election result, I will wake up on the morning of the 9th June prepared to continue the struggle for real and lasting inclusive education – I hope you will join me!

In solidarity

Tara Flood

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ALLFIE gives Article 24 evidence to the UN [audio]

In March we gave evidence to the UN in Geneva with the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, presenting our Shadow Report which documents how UK government policies since 2010 have moved backwards against nearly every article of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, including Article 24: Right to Inclusive Education.

The CRPD Committee asked a number of questions about education and disabled children and young people in response to ALLFIE's presentation. Our presentation set out the many breaches of Article 24 since ratification in 2009, including announcements of new funding for special and segregated provision, the disproportionate numbers of disabled children and young people with SEN being excluded from school, funding cuts to local SEN support services and the impact of these on disabled children, young people and their families, and of course the government plan to significantly increase levels of selection in schools.

The CRPD Committee have used this evidence to help it produce a "list of issues" on which it needs further information from the UK government. That list has now been published and will provide the scrutiny framework when the UK government attends the CRPD Committee in August.

The issues the UK government has been asked to comment on include:

ALLFIE has reviewed the list of issues and we're pleased that our concerns about the backward movement on Article 24 rights have been included in the document.
The full List of Issues is online here.

Tara Flood


The importance of advocacy for people locked up in special schools [audio]

This article is available on our blog.


Inclusive education in Bangladesh [audio]

Attending and speaking at the recent Fourth International Conference on Inclusive Education in Dhaka, Bangladesh, I was struck by the energy and commitment to developing inclusive education. Bangladesh has in recent years been operating one of the largest primary education systems in the world for a low income country. Net enrolment is at 98.7% with gender parity (1.02) and a rapid growth in pre-primary schools. However, behind the statistics of 20 million children attending 85,000 state primary schools, there are many groups who have been excluded, and 20% do not complete elementary education.

It has been left to NGOs to plug the gap:-

Nilphamari, Leonard Cheshire Disability

Since January 2012, Leonard Cheshire Disability's (LCD) South Asia Regional Office and Gana Unnayan Kendra (GUK) have been working in partnership in Nilphamari to implement "Promoting Rights through Community Action: Improved Access to Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities". The project was funded by the European Union and drew to a close in December 2014. It has had a significant impact, with more than 2,100 children with disabilities supported to enrol and stay in 262 schools in Nilphamari District. More than 300 teachers have been trained on aspects of inclusive education; 100 parents' groups have been formed; 100 inclusive children's clubs have been formed; more than 90 schools have been made accessible; 10 inclusive resource centres have been set up in mainstream schools.

Mirpur Protibondhi Centre

Run by the Bangladesh Protibondhi Foundation, this was founded in 1984 and since 1999 has been practising a policy of reverse inclusion, accommodating non-impaired children from the local areas alongside those with impairments, funded by government and Save the Children. There are twelve branches all across Bangladesh. They also run a community based rehabilitation programme in surrounding areas. The school we visited in the Mirpur district of Dhaka has 556 students, 136 of whom are part of the reverse-inclusion programme. There are 22 teachers and 36 teaching assistants. The school has a psychologist and speech and occupational therapists. Children have three pre-levels and can then join their grade class up to Grade 5, at the same levels as those in government schools. Parallel classes are run for those with more severe disabilities. They have developed a peer support model that seems to work very well; classes that we visited exhibited pairing of disabled and non- disabled children.

There is concentration on vocational education with which students with intellectual impairments are encouraged to join in: designing and printing fabrics, making wooden puzzles, sewing and making toys are the main focuses. These are then sold in the school shop, which is run by students, to raise income.


Building Resources Across Communities (formerly Bangladesh) is a development organisation based in Bangladesh, currently the largest in the world, largely funded by the UK's Department for International Development (DfID). Over the last forty years it has developed education facilities for those who would find it hard to access government education. Their main focus has been to get girls into education and provide schools in remote areas. They now cater for 2.5 million children with better results and less drop out than government schools. The organisation trains teachers themselves, running two year short courses (government schools only employ graduates). BRAC training is focused more on facilitating children's learning than on formal government pedagogy methods. In 2015, BRAC provided education to 179,000 children with mild to moderate impairments, with a programme of adjustments available. They also run workshops for children with disabilities to prepare them for mainstream education.

We visited a school in a Dhaka slum at "Shahparzan 29" which consists of two classes at year 4 & 5 levels. There are 17 other classroom schools situated in a dense area of self-made houses and workshops built mostly of corrugated iron and breeze blocks. The school is built of these same materials. There is no state primary in the neighbourhood. The class we visited had around thirty students with an equal gender balance and seven children with visual impairments, some of whom had had corrective surgery through BRAC. Pedagogy is traditional, with the teacher reading from a textbook and children following. It was clear on speaking to the children that they had understanding of the studies. The level of English was very high. Children were on task, interested, motivated and achieving the tasks set. They take exams after four years to gain access to government secondary schools. Girls and children with impairments do particularly well.

At the conference there was a great deal of verbal commitment by the government in Primary Education Development Plan III to the development of the capacity for inclusion.

Plan International: Developing A Model of Inclusive Education in Bangladesh

An Australian Aid funded project that has worked with the government Directorate of Primary Education to develop a sustainable and replicable model of inclusive education in fifty state primary schools in six districts.

The model addresses "Hand, Head and Heart" to develop the capacity of communities and the primary schools that serve them; working in the :community to develop 1-5 years pre-primary classes with community outreach; developing community resource people to provide training for teachers, heads and school management committees; making the environment and learning accessible.

Involving pupils in peer support and actively seeking their views has demonstrated a rapid improvement in quality education for all. Plan International have been expanding this programme to cover more schools and reported to us that the model was not working as well in Dhaka. This is probably because the stable community structures found in rural Bangladesh do not exist in the teeming streets and slums of Dhaka with its population of twenty million. We suggested that the task here might be aided by making the government primary school the centre of its own community. This could be achieved by using the resources of the school to provide adult education, social and medical support.

Disabled children are just one group not in education. Rapid urbanisation has led to 1.1 million street children in Dhaka.

Despite the difficulties, there are many teachers, community leaders and local education officers ready to make the transformation if money can be found from donors such as DfID and GPE to bring the model of inclusive education to scale.

Richard Rieser, World of Inclusion


Transforming Educational Systems - Lessons from New Brunswick [audio]

There is global recognition of the importance of inclusive education, not only in ensuring that every young person enjoys their right to quality education but also as a means of building more inclusive 21st century societies. Yet despite more than 30 years of promising educational innovation, it remains the case that rather few jurisdictions have implemented a comprehensive system of inclusive education. One of those which has is the Canadian province of New Brunswick. Here we tell the New Brunswick story and offer a framework for transforming public education systems so as to provide inclusive education for all.

Gordon Porter, as a teacher, school principal, district leader and state policy adviser has been an integral part of this story. In discussion with David Towell, he identifies important features of a 30 year journey towards creating educational environments where all children learn with their peers in community schools.

In New Brunswick, there were three major factors at work as the movement toward inclusion began in the late 1970s. First, many families were unhappy with the outcomes of segregated schooling for their children. Parents were becoming vocal and increasingly their voices were being heard. Second, there were legislative and policy factors setting new directions. Specifically, Canada included a Charter of Rights and Freedoms in its constitution in 1982, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability. Third, a cohort of teachers and school leaders developed a commitment to providing instruction to all students, based on the simple proposition, “All students can learn”. Building on success, one teacher at a time, then one school at a time, New Brunswick’s educators found there was a path forward that provided both quality instruction and inclusion for all students.

Of course, this transformation took time. In the district where I worked, it took us 2-3 years to fully define our approach (from 1982), then a further 3-4 years to institutionalize it. We were not alone since several other school districts welcomed the change to inclusion and invested in the training and capacity building needed to give teachers, principals and support teachers what they needed to succeed.

At the provincial level, the Ministry of Education provided a policy framework as well as funding to support the change. There were province wide seminars and training events over the course of several years. We accepted that if we waited until everyone in the system was ready for inclusion to begin, we would fail to progress. The focus was on moving forward and solving problems as they emerged.

One of the strategies we found most effective at the school level was to identify the most challenging situations faced by teachers and provide as much support as needed to make the situation better. We also invested heavily in developing a cadre of “support teachers” who could provide direct assistance to teachers as they worked to make inclusion a reality in their classrooms.

All these things happened in the context of planning at the school, district and provincial level. The Ministry of Education fostered partnerships with districts, and districts developed cooperative initiatives with each other. Parent/family advocacy organizations, universities and professional groups were also part of the partnership efforts. Moreover the provincial leadership throughout this thirty years has been committed to regular reviews, always seeking to identify ways in which we could do better. Success is always a work in progress.

In New Brunswick, the evidence is that every investment made to make a school inclusive is an investment in making the school a better school for all the students.

In New Brunswick, systemic change has not relied on small scale successes in independent-minded schools; still less on ‘grafting on’ inclusion to traditional educational practices without tackling the inherent contradictions this generates. Rather they have recognised that inclusive education requires transformational change in public education so that inclusion becomes an intrinsic dimension of policy, culture and practice at all levels from the classroom to the government.

Reflecting on this and other examples of radical change, we have identified ten keys to this transformation (see box). Critical here are an enriched conception of quality education as preparation for life, coupled with a commitment to making inclusion work for everyone. Also essential is leadership which promotes the active participation of all the stakeholders in education and sustained investment in learning from experience as change proceeds.

The Transformational Change Matrix

This table lists the ten keys to inclusion which have to be entrenched at all three levels of school/classroom, district and state.

  1. Educating for life
  2. Promoting inclusion
  3. Encouraging transformation leadership
  4. Developing partnership
  5. Investing in equity
  6. Tackling barriers to participation
  7. Strengthening inclusive pedagogy
  8. Prioritising professional development
  9. Learning from experience
  10. Plotting the journey to inclusion

A fuller version of this article, identifying the actions required at the levels of the school, the local education authority and the education ministry is available here.

UNESCO has produced a complementary set of materials: Reaching Out to All Learners

Gordon Porter and David Towell


General Election 2017 [audio]

When the Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced a snap general election recently to take place on the 8th June, it seemed that the only issue political parties were going to focus on was Brexit. Thankfully as the election date draws closer other issues are bubbling to the surface including education - in particular selective education and school funding cuts.

As usual ALLFIE has created general election resources for our members and supporters to use when lobbying their prospective parliamentary candidates. The resources are available here.

At the time of going to press we are still waiting for each of the political parties to officially publish their manifestos, but we know already the current administration is determined to force through selective education by increasing the number of grammar schools. It is likely therefore that all parties will use their manifestos to set out their position on this issue.

This really is our opportunity to secure support from prospective parliamentary candidates of all parties for the very different type of education system we want - an education system that is focused on inclusivity, equality and welcome for all including disabled pupils and students with or without SEN.

Given the increasing disquiet amongst teaching and education unions, campaigning organisations and parents about severe cuts to school budgets, political parties are very likely to set out their position on funding for education. ALLFIE knows this is a huge issue for parents and disabled pupils and students. Indeed the Local Government Association has said that the continued cuts to SEND budgets will lead to local authorities failing in their statutory duties, particularly around the presumption of mainstream education for disabled pupils and students.

So given the general election date is very close ALLFIE has decided to focus on these two issues specifically. We have approached the four main parties and asked them about selective education and the impact on disabled pupils and students, and about the impact that school funding cuts will have on the inclusion of disabled pupils and students with SEN in mainstream education.

We have set out their responses over the next couple of pages and you will see that it's a bit of a mixed bag, so there is a huge amount for the inclusive education movement to do if we're going to build a groundswell of support for disabled people's right to inclusive education that the next government cannot ignore!

These are the two election asks we asked all of the parties to commit to:

Tara Flood


Political Party Positions [audio]

Scottish National Party (SNP)

Former SNP Westminster spokesperson for Social Justice and Welfare and candidate for Banff and Buchan Eilidh Whiteford said: "The SNP is a strong supporter of the presumption of mainstream education. We support the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Act 2000 that places a duty on education authorities to provide education in a mainstream school unless specific exceptions apply.

"A cornerstone of our inclusive approach to education is the presumption of mainstreaming for pupils with additional support needs.

"We know that significant numbers of children, young people and their families have benefited from that inclusive approach. However, it is necessary that we ensure that the approach to mainstreaming is undertaken in an effective fashion, which is why John Swinney Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education has commissioned a review of the guidance on mainstreaming.

"That is to ensure that the existing guidance reflects the legislative and policy context and succeeds in delivering on individuals' expectations. The extended consultation on that guidance will begin on 19 May and will run until the end of August. That will enable individuals to respond to the issues over a long period of time.

"The SNP wants all children and young people to receive the full support that they need to reach their full potential and will continue working hard to help enable this."

Labour Party

The Labour manifesto includes the following: "We will deliver a strategy for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) based on inclusivity, and embed SEND more substantially into training for teachers and non-teaching staff, so that staff, children and their parents are properly supported."

The manifesto also lists the following:

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats responded:

Full implementation of disabled pupils' and students human rights to mainstream education (including apprenticeships) under UNCRPD Article 24 and the Children and Families Act

The Liberal Democrats are fully committed to this. Successive waves of institutional, curriculum and qualifications reform have been rolled out without regard to the interests of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The Government is then forced to 'bolt on' additional guidance when it realises its statutory duties are not being met. Consequently, students with SEND and their parents are forced to navigate an incredibly complex legal framework.

For example, changes to Disabled Students' Allowance mean that universities must now meet some of the lower-intensity needs of disabled students. However, the Government has not issued guidance on how universities should meet this duty. When Liberal Democrat peer Lord Addington asked Ministers what they would do about this, they replied that "we would let the courts decide" when a university failed to meet its duties. It is simply unacceptable that a 19 year old has to go to court in order to secure for themselves an inclusive university education.

This sort of problem is being replicated across the education system. For this reason, we believe that any new education policy must be preceded by a full impact assessment that considers the effect of the reform on children with SEND. In particular, the policy must be demonstrated to comply with the Equality Act 2010.

Full funding of a universal inclusive education system that will include the support disabled pupils and students need to flourish in mainstream education.

Schools face £3 billion of cuts by 2020. This is the most financial pressure schools have been in since the mid-1990s. Around £1.7 billion of these cuts will come to staff budgets, and teachers are telling MPs that counsellors, pastoral services and other support staff will be first to go. Local councils can help schools support vulnerable pupils, but the funding for their support services has been cut by 75%. It is simply unfair that the pupils who need the most support will face the brunt of these cuts.

Yet at the same time, Ministers are introducing two new National Funding Formulas: one for schools and one for high-needs pupils and students at specialist SEND institutions. Approximately 9,000 schools lose out under the formula and so will be hit twice with cuts. The new formula cannot be 'fair' on pupils if schools lose money as a result of the changes. The Liberal Democrats will be setting out clear plans to ensure schools receive the funding they need to in our manifesto.

UK Independence Party (UKIP)

A spokesperson for UKIP responded: "The policy of closing special schools will be reversed. Every child is unique and the needs of each child should come first. Those who learn better in a tailored, non-mainstream environment should have the opportunity to do so."

Conservative Party

A Conservative Party spokesperson said:

"We are determined that every child, no matter the obstacles they face, should have the same opportunity for success as any other. This ambition is backed by a £5.3 billion investment in 2016-17 for children and young people with high needs. We have also announced a £215 million fund for councils across the country to improve and create more special provision, which will help build new classrooms and improve facilities for pupils with special educational needs, so that no child is left behind.

"The choice at the election is clear: it is a choice between Theresa May providing the strong and stable leadership we need for Brexit and beyond to keep on improving schools, or a coalition of chaos and instability led by Jeremy Corbyn, putting our economy and funding for schools at risk."

Green Party

Mags Lewis, Disability Spokesperson for the Green Party responded:

"The Green Party fully support disabled pupils' and students' human rights to a mainstream education. This was in our 2015 manifesto (our 2017 one has yet to be released). The Green Party is committed to the social model of disability, and a basic tenet is to have full inclusivity in education. People who are disabled have a right to participate fully in society.

"Specifically, we will:

ALLFIE says: Keep an eye on our website to find out if your local candidate has signed up to our election asks:

For disability news and discussion around the election you can follow the #CripTheVoteUK hashtag on Twitter.

The Geography Story [audio]

My daughter Katie, who has Down Syndrome, started at Durrington High School in September 2015: her high school journey began, and a love for Geography through a little personalisation from a very good teacher.

Katie's first piece of homework for Geography was to learn the keywords and definitions for energy and climate change. Katie only had the weekend to learn it due to her timetable so I decided to email her teacher, Mr Crockett to ask if I could modify the homework slightly to speed up the learning process and depending on how we got on could Katie be tested verbally if necessary on Monday. I was very pleased when I received an email back saying...

"I am really interested to see how you have done this as I can then get a better and quicker handle on Katie's understanding, and as you know Katie best I am sure that your alterations will be more than suitable."

This was my eureka moment, something that words just can't describe, someone had recognised that my knowledge of how I work with Katie was valuable .For Mr Crockett it was to gain a quicker understanding of Katie and how best to personalise and differentiate the work to get the best out of Katie and for her to flourish with the rest of the class. And that moment of receiving that email will stay with me forever. Mr Crockett bless him just thought it was an everyday occurrence and just an example of good practice, but for me it was huge!!!

So I set to work to differentiate the homework. I found an image for each word, I modified the definition by simplifying the words where possible, I sent a copy to Mr Crockett. I then cut them up and made them into a word/picture matching game to gain an understanding of the different words and their definitions and then we progressed to Katie being able to tell me what each word and definition meant. It was good fun, Katie really engaged with it and most importantly she could remember the keywords and definitions. Katie went to school on Monday and got 10/10 for her test. She was so pleased with herself. Mr Crockett emailed to tell me the good news regarding her test results. He also said he was going to set up a meeting with the Teaching Assistants in the Geography department to create similar resources to help support Katie.

So have the modifications and visual resources helped Katie? I asked Mr Crockett how Katie was doing in class and this was his reply.

"Regarding how Katie is doing in class, in summary she is currently exceeding expectations. Considering her baseline threshold she is constantly achieving beyond this and therefore making good progress. It is clear that she enjoys Geography and while she may at times need a greater degree of scaffolding I really do believe that she enjoys the high expectations that I have of her in Geography."

This has never been said about Katie before therefore in my opinion Katie is thriving because she has a teacher that looks beyond her label and just sees Katie. He understands her strengths and utilises them by producing visual resources for her so that she can achieve just like the rest of the students in her class. He believes in her and pushes her forward and in doing so Katie now believes she can achieve. Geography is now by far her favourite subject and is already talking about taking it as her GCSE choice. I think Mr Crockett has made Katie feel exactly as Miller and Katz (2002) describe in their definition of inclusion.

"A sense of belonging: feeling respected, valued for who you are; feeling a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so that you can do your best."

And it doesn't stop there as we then had the geography project... a landscape in a box! Katie decided she would make Angel Falls, the world's tallest waterfall! Katie struggles with her fine motor skills and the thought of constructing a model or making something is always a daunting task....and then she had an idea. She asked Mr Crockett if she could make it out of cake. Katie absolutely loves to bake, it is her ultimate passion. It would appear that Mr Crockett likes cake too as he got very excited and agreed as long as it still contained all the relevant research and information.

And here it is...Angel Falls! By modifying the project to making a cake Katie was motivated, excited, eager to learn about Angel Falls and very proud of the end result. I think Mr Crockett liked it too!

"Not only was the scale of the cake staggering, but so was the thought and detail that had actually gone into making it. Despite not being the easiest "material" to work with, it was one of the (if not the best) presented models and I thought the use of the icing was amazing. From a teachers point of view the research on the landscape was of a similar, if not as delicious, standard showing that Katie had really enjoyed the project."

Rachel Froggatt


Costing Equity - Creating a global disability-responsive education financing environment [audio]

2017 could mark the beginning of serious efforts to fund inclusive education for disabled children and young people in low and middle income countries (LMIC). The Inclusive Education Committee of the International Disability and Development Committee (IDDC, a consortium of NGOs in disability and development), has published the Costing Equity report, important research into what it will take to deliver Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4: "Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all".

The report's recommendations were launched at the UN last October with huge interest, but on 22nd March the full report was launched at the Open Society Foundation (one of the funders), attended by CEOs from twelve NGOs and representatives of other organisations. Nafisa Baboo, a visually impaired South African who is the Inclusive Education Lead for Light for the World, played a key role in promoting this work.

The context:

Costing Equity makes 64 recommendations to address this situation. Some of the most important include: governments to develop their tax base, improve existing resource use, increase percentage of spend on education and develop twin track budgeting to match a twin track approach.

Track 1: invest in changing policies, practices and attitudes at all levels of the education system to remove barriers and create enabling situations for all children via disability inclusive teaching.

Track 2: offer learning and participation opportunities for individuals via differentiated teaching methods and reasonable accommodations, sign language and materials in accessible formats. The decline in external funding needs to be reversed, and funding needs to be disability responsive and harmonised in national plans. The Global Partnership for Education invests £2 billion a year and is committing to focus more on disability inclusion.

Capacity building is crucial especially around understanding the UNCRPD General Comment No. 4 on Inclusive Education Article 24. This needs to be for DPOs/NGO staff, ministry of education staff, teachers and education administrators, parents and donor organisations. This must be based on the paradigm shift at the heart of the UNCRPD from disabled people as objects to subjects - from the medical to the social model.
The report points to many innovative approaches: involving the private sector, public campaigns, cash transfer programmes for attendance in education, reasonable accommodation funds, provision of assistive devices and more involvement of DPOs in budget planning.

The spirit of the report was picked up by Priti Patel MP, Secretary of State for Overseas Development at the Bond Conference for development organisations, on 20th March 2017. "We will also strengthen our work on disability … Disability is shamefully the most under-prioritised, under-resourced area in development. But with the help of your organisations, we can change this."

She went on to announce a small charities challenge fund for charities with a turnover of less than £250,000 and recognised the valuable work carried out by smaller NGOs such as Exeter Ethiopia Link who help thousands of disabled children go to school by providing wheelchairs, training teachers and providing support for teachers.

With thirteen years to go to 2030 when the SDGs are to be implemented, a major change is necessary. Building the campaign for disability responsive inclusive education and securing the changes and resources to make this happen is now one of the great struggles of our age. Make sure you do what you can to ensure the right outcome locally, nationally and internationally.

The Costing Equity report is here.

Richard Rieser, World of Inclusion

Notices [audio]

Nottingham Community Circles

The purpose of community circles is to bring people from a local community together to share their skills, talents, gifts and resources. We believe that everyone needs community. They will be on the second Wednesday of the month at 7.45pm.

New venue! St Judes Church Hall, Woodborough Road, Mapperley, Nottingham NG3 5HE

Phone: 0845 458 9595 / 0115 960 8254. Any questions please email:

More info.


ALLFIE's Annual General Meeting (AGM) will take place on Wednesday, 6th September 2017 from 2pm – 5pm at 336 Brixton Road, London SW9 7AA.

The agenda, plan for the day and annual report will be sent to members in August 2017. We hope you will be able to join us. Look forward to seeing you.


Legal Question [audio]

Q: Whilst I know that the underlying principle of the Children and Families Act is the presumption of mainstream education, I understand that a local authority can rely on several caveats in determining where my child should go to school, including a special school even if it's not what we want as a family. How can I use Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in arguing for a good inclusive education placement when the LA has the legal power to segregate my child from mainstream education?

A: Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides disabled learners (those with mental and physical disabilities) with the right to receive a mainstream education, with appropriate support.

In theory, this means that all disabled learners within the UK should be able to access mainstream education and not be forced to attend special school placements.

However, this is not the case: the UK government has not fully signed up to Article 24, and has instead placed a restriction on Article 24, known as an Interpretive Declaration, which states that an inclusive education system in the UK includes both mainstream and special schools.

Does this limitation impact EHCPs?

The reality of this limitation is that a local authority (LA) can decide to name a special school in a child or young person's Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), against a parent's wishes, without being in breach of Article 24.

Until the UK government signs up fully to Article 24 a "good, inclusive education" can include placement at a special school as part of an EHCP.

The government has also placed a Reservation on Article 24, which states that disabled learners can be educated away from their local community if more appropriate educational provision is available elsewhere. For example a child or young person living in Manchester could be educated in Derby, if it is deemed the most suitable placement for them by the LA.

Appealing Against An EHCP

It is worth noting that these restrictions do not prevent parents from referring to Article 24 when putting arguments forward for a placement at their preferred mainstream school; it just means that the LA is not forced to comply with Article 24 in naming a placement.

If an LA does name a special school in a child or young person's EHCP and a parent wishes to challenge this decision, it is best practice for parents to lodge an appeal with the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal following the issue of the final EHCP.

As part of the appeal, parents should gather evidence from independent experts where possible, in particular an independent educational psychologist, to support their claims that an inclusive mainstream education is more appropriate for their child or young person than a special school placement.

Such evidence would need to show that the parental preference school is as capable of meeting their child or young person's needs as the Local Authority preference special school, if not more so, particularly in accordance with the age, ability, aptitude, or special needs of their child or young person.

Parents will also need to show that a child or young person's attendance at a mainstream school would not be incompatible with the provision of efficient education of others or the efficient use of resources.
It is the tribunal panel's job to determine which school is considered most appropriate to meet the child or young person's needs based upon the evidence before it from both the parent and the LA.

Rachael Smurthwaite

Rachael is a solicitor with Simpson Millar, and specialises in education law.

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