Are good intentions good enough?

ALLFIE reports back on Christine Lenehan’s review of residential special schools and colleges.

Christine Lenehan’s review of residential special schools and colleges (RSSC) was commissioned by the Department for Education after it was one of the key recommendations of the earlier “These are our Children” report, also authored by Lenehan. The timing of the RSSC review was also influenced by Sir Martin Narey’s recent report on residential children’s homes and his recommendation that residential special schools warranted separate consideration. Lenehan’s earlier report found that many disabled children and young people were being bounced back and forth between residential special schools and inpatient care, including Assessment and Treatment Centres.

The RSSC review findings are no surprise to any of us and they conclude that the following factors are pushing pupils into residential special schools:

  • The failure of local authorities and clinical commissioning groups to provide well-coordinated local education, health and social care provision that families can access.
  • The struggle of local schools to meet the needs of disabled children and young people with behaviour that challenges; lack of practitioners experienced in working with children and young people whose behaviour challenges and their availability to work with local schools.
  • Lack of and difficulty in accessing mental health services for children requiring counselling and support after traumatic experiences, including bereavement.
  • Lack of expertise within schools on how to work with pupils with labels of autism and other social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.
  • The battle that parents have in securing appropriate services and support for their children in mainstream schools.
  • Disabled children and young people being set up to fail in mainstream driven by the lack of incentives to develop and share inclusive education practice.
  • A lack of ambition for Disabled children and young people across the education sector.

ALLFIE responded to the review’s call for evidence by setting out the case for an ambitious plan to phase out RSSCs in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We are therefore deeply disappointed by the lack of ambition in the recommendations coming out of the review – essentially not much more than tweaking at the ends of a broken system.

The review is co-authored with Mark Geraghty, Chief Executive of the Seashell Trust which is a residential special school, so it is not surprising that there is a central theme running through the report that not all disabled children can be educated in local schools, upholding the status quo that there will always be a need for residential special schools – in fact such settings will be in the “best interests” of some disabled children!

The review does say a lot about the need for local authorities and clinical commissioning groups to do much more to develop local services which facilitate the inclusion of disabled children and young people in mainstream education. However, this falls short of supporting the ‘presumption of mainstream education’ principle set out in the 2014 Children and Families Act. Or indeed addressing the growing numbers of children being pushed into residential special schools as a fallback position when they and their families have been repeatedly failed by a plethora of local education, health and social care agencies.

Why are Lenehan & Geraghty not shouting from the rooftops that the ongoing institutionalisation of disabled children because of failings by the state is nothing short of a national disgrace? Why do they not concur with the UN Disability Committee’s Concluding Observations that government policies to cut vital services to disabled people (including children) and their families is causing a “human catastrophe”? Instead they have crafted a series of recommendations that lack real ambition and fail to set out a new and radical approach to supporting ALL disabled children to stay in their local communities.

We must push back on these recommendations and remind government that residential special schools and colleges are not compliant with their UNCRPD obligations. We must also keep up the pressure on government to recognise the UN Disability Committee’s call for a ‘comprehensive and co-ordinated framework for a fully inclusive education system’ – anything less is failing this and future generations of disabled children and young people.

Simone Aspis (ALLFIE Campaigns Coordinator) and Tara Flood (ALLFIE CEO)


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