Labour Party Leadership Candidates’ Perspective on Inclusive Education
ALLFIE asks, how will the Labour Party’s prospective new leadership support inclusive education?
ALLFIE wanted to know whether the Labour Party’s new leadership will support disabled pupils’ human right to inclusive education. We wrote to all the Labour Party leadership candidates, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy and Keir Starmer, alongside deputy leadership candidates Ian Murray, Angela Rayner, Richard Burgon, Dawn Butler and Dr Rosena Allin-Khan asking each of them to:
- Support and sign ALLFIE’s manifesto and its six demands for inclusive education
- Set out in a 700-word statement how they would implement the UNCRPD Monitoring Committee’s recommendations around Article 24
Which leadership candidates support ALLFIE’s manifesto for inclusive education?
We are very pleased to announce that leadership candidates Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy, alongside the deputy leadership candidates Ian Murray, Angela Rayner and Richard Burgon, have pledged their support for ALLFIE’s inclusive education manifesto.
We are very disappointed that the other Labour Party leadership candidates Keir Starmer, Dawn Butler and Rosena Allin-Khan, have not responded.
How have the leadership candidates stated they would implement UNCRPD recommendations for inclusive education?
We are very disappointed that Labour Party leadership candidates Keir Starmer, Dawn Butler and Rosena Allin-Khan, have not provided a statement that would assist our members in deciding who they would vote for in the forthcoming ballot. After all the Labour Party shadow Government have signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), of which Article 33 clearly sets out the Government’s obligations to engage with civil society, in particular disabled people and their representative organisations. How can we trust that a future Labour Government would uphold disabled people’s human rights when they are already failing to engage with disabled people and their organisations on how to uphold our UNCRPD rights?
Disabled people have been failed by the education system, from early years through to the school system and beyond to higher and further education. We have a system that too often segregates people with disabilities, denies them choice and control over their education, and reduces opportunity and quality of life.
The Conservative Party have consciously created this system by raising the barriers that block disabled people from inclusive education rather than supporting them. They have sought to divide children with SEND through the creation of a dual education system rather than ensuring every child gets the inclusive education they have a right to. And they have failed to ensure that these separate schools are funded adequately. The National Audit Office has found that education spending has not kept up with the increase in the rise of pupils with high needs, forcing overstretched local authorities to spend more. We are failing children with SEND twice: placing them in separate, special schools, and then refusing to fund these places adequately. It is time to end the incentivisation of school segregation where mainstream schools are expected to cover the first £6,000 of support for a child with SEND from their existing budgets. Because of this, cash-strapped schools are at risk of going under for doing the right thing: creating a nurturing environment where every child, but especially those with additional needs and requirements, receives the support and care they need to thrive.
But getting the school funding right is just one part of the much bigger reforms required to create a truly inclusive education system. Too often we require disabled people to conform to the education system, rather than ensuring the education system can accommodate and support them. We have a curriculum that is inflexible, and often denies the opportunities for students to learn the subjects they want to. This is especially true for deaf pupils who are still denied the opportunity to learn British Sign Language at GCSE. I support efforts by campaigners such as ALLFIE to create an inclusive curriculum, one that represents disabled people and enables them to fully participate in the education system.
For many disabled people, the physical fabric of our education system – the actual space it occupies – is inaccessible. It is deeply revealing of how our education system fails people with disabilities when, for example, a wheelchair user cannot access a lecture theatre or when the accessible toilet is used as storage, or when the accessible areas on a campus are kept separate, while the rest of the buildings remain unusable. We cannot be serious about creating a truly inclusive education system if the actual buildings occupied by the system are inaccessible.
All of this points to one overarching problem in our education system: the lack of control and agency experienced by people with disabilities over the decisions that affect them. ALLFIE has powerfully written about this, with one parent saying they were told that “there were no options and that he would have to go to a special school, even if we didn’t want it”. Giving parents of disabled children and disabled people themselves the choices they deserve to access inclusive and high-quality education requires us to embed within schools a wider culture of support as well.
But this needs more than a set of promises, it also needs a Leader of the Labour Party and a Prime Minister willing to work with campaigners on this issue to identify the real solutions. That would be my intention as Prime Minister because a truly inclusive education system isn’t something that can be built in Whitehall; it requires all of us to work together.
This is a cause worth fighting hard for. It is a campaign to create an education system that works for all by taking into account the needs of all. It is a campaign for a better and decent society, one where everyone gets the best start in life and the chance to thrive and succeed. It is a campaign for basic human rights. It is a cause that I am proud to support.
After a decade of Conservative-led cuts to our education system, I am committed to making an open, accessible, inclusive education system a central tenet of the Labour party’s vision for the country. We need to address the disability education gap and the special educational needs and disability (SEND) funding crisis by providing the necessary funding to support children and young people who hold Education, Health and Care Plans and those who receive SEND Support. Investing in the early years workforce and ‘Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators’ (SENCOs) will also play an important part in ending the disability educational gap.
Disabled children and young people are particularly at risk of exclusions within schools. This leads to a continued cycle of inequality within our education system. I believe we need to end the perverse incentives for schools to let pupils fall out of the education system by making schools more accountable for the outcomes of pupils who leave their student rolls.
As a Labour Prime Minister I will also place a duty on all higher education institutions to ensure that their courses are accessible to all disabled students. I will maintain our commitments to scrapping tuition fees and bringing back maintenance grants and to restoring the Educational Maintenance Allowance – ensuring fair and sustainable funding for further education as well as higher education.
As Labour leader and Prime minister I will honour our commitment in the 2019 manifesto to incorporate the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Disabled People (UNCRPD) into law. We will do this by incorporating the UN CRPD into UK law, working with disabled people every step of the way.
Over the past decade we have seen the creation of a hostile environment for disabled people, created as part of driving through their agenda of cuts and austerity by the Conservatives, and the Lib Dems when in Coalition. Cuts, whether outright or disguised as ‘necessary reform’ to public services and our social security system have systematically denied disabled people the support, respect and ability to fully participate in society they deserve.
It is shameful that the United Nations report, in 2016, labelled austerity as responsible for “grave” and “systematic” human rights violations against disabled people and last year the UN rapporteur on Extreme Poverty likened the Department for Work and Pensions to a 19th century workhouse. That policies, such as sanctions, are implemented despite the Government’s own impact assessment acknowledging physical harm will be caused to claimants is the mark of a cruel and inhumane government.
I’m proud that Labour now stands up to the use of stigmatising and dehumanising language when social security is being discussed and in the 2019 campaign were clear we would end Universal Credit and replace it with a better system and end sanctions. As Labour leader I want to work in partnership with disabled people’s organisations to hold this government to account, and force them to reverse on their reactionary agenda.
As Labour leader, the Labour party would campaign to reverse the hostile environment created by Conservative and Liberal Democrat governments over the past 10 years. We would immediately reverse the cruel austerity program imposed on communities, disproportionately affecting disabled people and rebuild our services and society with advancing equality at its heart, in education and beyond. The elected Senate I have proposed to replace the House of Lords would be tasked with scrutinising the impact of all legislation towards our goals of improving well-being, environmental sustainability and equality.
I was proud that our party was the only party in 2019 with a manifesto developed by and for disabled people, with the principle of ‘nothing about you without you’. As the next Labour leader and Prime Minister, I will ensure we embody that principle across the party, empowering disabled people and enhancing their voices and increasing their representation. Every policy decision and every pledge will be co-produced by, with and for disabled people to ensure dignity, equality and independence at every stage of people’s lives.
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The ALLFIE manifesto is all about respecting differences and ensuring that from an early age, children appreciate that our community is diverse and that such diversity is worth celebrating. The statement that we should ‘educate, not segregate’ is one I not only agree with but have consistently advocated myself: the UK’s education system, as well as wider public services and public life, should be inclusive of disabled people. As Shadow Education Secretary, I have seen time and time again, how under the Conservatives, our education system has been driven to breaking point, with such chronic underfunding that progress on inclusivity and modernising Britain’s education settings has been neglected.
I was proud that Labour committed to protecting the rights of all people in our education system, by committing to enshrine the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in to domestic law; this would have protected the rights of all children, but particularly those who most need it, and are least likely to have their rights protected and upheld, such as disabled children.
In order to ensure that the education system is as inclusive as possible all school buildings must be genuinely accessible and the layouts and designs of such buildings should be inclusive and sensitive of the needs for all students who learn there. Many schools are still located in old buildings where the little funding received under the Tories is being spent on patchwork maintenance rather than on facilitating a truly inclusive 21st Century education. I was proud that Labour committed to a major programme of capital spending to improve existing school buildings, to ensure that they are safe, accessible, and fit for purpose; this included an additional £7 billion in capital funding to invest in existing school buildings, starting with those most in need of repair and refurbishment – as many that I visit so desperately are.
Labour is also committed to an independent review of both the assessment system and the curriculum. Such commitments, which I absolutely want to uphold in the future, will help us ensure a move towards a more inclusive curriculum, without letting individual politicians simply change the curriculum according to their individual whims.
Of course, a genuinely coordinated system, including ensuring that disabled children are integrated amongst their peers, begins in the early years. That’s why Labour committed to over £1 billion in additional funding for Sure Start Plus, which would offer integrated health, education, and family support, with a focus on families with children aged 0-2; I remain committed to a review of the care system as a whole, and this would have included looking at ways to ensure that the system is fully integrated and able to support all those who need it.
Finally, the staffing and training of said staff to promote inclusion has to be a priority, and that is why Labour committed to giving schools the resources they need, to stem the decline in support staff, who play a vital role in supporting disabled students. We all know that the number of teaching assistants and other pastoral staff has declined in recent years, with a particularly sharp decline in secondary schools. We also know that an inclusive workforce, able to support pupils with different needs, is essential at every stage of their education. That is why Labour’s plans for the early years included having specialist staff to support pupils with higher needs.
I completely support ALLFIE’s 24 principles as set down in the excellent manifesto and, if elected as Deputy Leader, look forward to continuing to champion inclusive education policy around the Shadow Cabinet table.
As Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, I will have two clear goals: to ensure that our party becomes a more inclusive environment for members; and to campaign loudly for a more inclusive society.
Members should have a greater voice in policymaking. Not until we have the voices of disabled people in policy-making decisions around the health and social care sector, education, and workers’ rights, will we truly have inclusive policies, and be able to start the process of forming a manifesto that returns us to government.
There is evidently an issue in the Labour Party regarding how accessible our party meetings are. There are still too many situations in which Labour group meetings are not organised in accessible and inclusive environments which allow everyone to contribute to the workings of the party, and the decisions that we make. The Labour Party should be doing much better than this, including more accessible literature and resources, and as Deputy Leader I will work to ensure that the needs of disabled people are heard and adhered to.
We should also reconsider the pressure we put on activists in campaigning. While the party owes a lot to those who go out door-knocking in all weathers and at all times of year (the 2019 winter election was particularly testing for all those who spent so many hours on the doorstep), there are many different ways that members can campaign and help out during elections – and I do believe the party should do more to encourage other ways of campaigning.
As Deputy Leader, I will work on opening up our campaigning methods so that our party is accessible to as many different people as possible with differing needs.
I agree with the commitments the last Labour manifesto set out in relation to the development of the education system into an inclusive system based on human rights and equal opportunities. My job as Deputy Leader will be to ensure that we have an environment within the party that enables those with lived experiences to have an input into what decisions we make. When the Labour Party returns to Government, the policies we implement will have been written and contributed to by those who it will affect.
As you are aware, not one, but two UN reports have accused the Tory Government of ‘systematic violations’ of the rights of disabled people. On top of that, cuts to social care by the Tories in England and the SNP in Scotland have driven families to despair. Enough is enough.
In line with the UNCRDP Article 24 principles, I fully endorse ALLFIE’s campaign for an inclusive education supported by human rights law; a coordinated education, health and social care system; an inclusive learning environment and curriculum; an inclusive assessment system; and ensuring our education workforce is committed to inclusive education practice. I commend you for the work you have done to promote this, and look forward to working with you on these objectives, regardless of the outcome of this contest.
The right to education is a human right, and anything that impedes disabled people from getting an education that is inclusive and tailored to their needs must be changed.
As the party that created the NHS, and which used the power of government to invest huge amounts in education and the health service, the Labour Party is the only party that is committed to the widening of participation in society and the development of inclusive education that meets the needs of disabled people. As Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, I commit to campaigning on these issues, and ensuring that those with lived experience have the opportunity to help shape policy in the future.
I am more than happy to sign up to all of the Alliance For Inclusive Education’s pledges
Whether or not I am elected as Deputy Leader, I look forward to working with you and to supporting your important work in the future, to tackle the discrimination faced in our education system.
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