Political Rhetoric and Inclusive Education

Part 2 of ‘Missing Voices’, a powerful 3-part series to mark Black History Month 2020. By Navin Kikabhai

Political Rhetoric and Inclusive Education

By Navin Kikabhai

Over several decades we have been witnessing the increasing educational segregation of disabled people, including those described as having Special Educational Needs (SEN), at every level of educational provision. It is probably surprising to most people to think that if a young person with an Education Health and Care plan wanted to attend their mainstream school or college or a disabled learner wanting to go to university – that this preference would be met by a barrage of individual, structural opposition and institutional discriminations. The current educational machine is predominantly set to sending such individuals to Alternative Provision, Free Schools, ‘special’ units/classes, discrete provision, under the prefix that ‘they’ would “get the support” ‘they’ need. On the contrary, this so-called ‘special’ provision is by definition discriminatory and certainly not inclusive.

For decades disabled people and their allies have been highlighting this discriminatory practice. Not only are disabled people often locked out of the education system, they are also often locked out of decision-making processes and from working in the very profession that tend to exclude us. Political rhetoric about inclusive policy and practice is a sham, full of well-meaning phrases that lack political teeth, and legal protections. In recent times it seems incredible that four decades after the Warnock Report (1978) little has changed for disabled people (not that Mary Warnock was ever going to promote the rights of disabled people to non-segregated education).

Disabled people are not a homogenous group or people with single identities, we are gendered, we cross different age groups, we come from different social, and ethnic backgrounds, we identify with different sexualities, and so on.

Another political rhetorical tool is parental ‘choice’. When parents find themselves in this machine they are often at loggerheads with Local Authorities. Parents usually those who have the social, cultural and financial wherewithal have the means to seek legal advice and redress, even if this now called ‘specialist’ provision (different name, same outcome, same dirty trick: segregation). Not all parents have the social, cultural and financial wherewithal or can articulate their educational rights. Give some thought to under-resourced families on low income or those parents from different ethnic groups who are routinely excluded and overrepresented in segregated provision – why? Disablism, racism, social class discrimination; that is why!

What is for sure: no parent would ever have thought that so-called parental ‘choice’ would mask such a cruel and callous education system that prizes mythical norms, standards, individual achievement, promotes negative cultural images of disabled people and shuns difference and perpetuates rejection. No educational practitioner too would ever have thought they would be instrumental in this discriminatory educational machine. Many disabled learners are expected to reveal their personal identities for institutional consumption with the expectation that such institutions will make reasonable adjustments. How about a different question: What discriminatory barriers would the university need to remove to enable you to have a successful higher educational experience? Surely, this alternative question would begin to remove some of the educational rhetoric around university education! It is not a political will that is the problem but legal and enforceable protection for disabled people to a fully inclusive education system at every level that is at stake.


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