No move to address an education system that is failing Disabled children and Young people
A Response to the King’s Speech 2023. By Edmore Masendeke, ALLFIE’s Policy and Research Officer.
The government will move forward with its plans to introduce the British Advance Standard and increase the number of Young people undertaking ‘high quality apprenticeships’, King Charles III said in the King’s speech on Tuesday 7 November 2023. Not much else was said about the government’s legislative agenda in education. This means that the status quo will remain the same in all other aspects of education, including the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Alternative Provision (AP) system, which is failing Disabled children and Young people across England.
The SEND and AP system is under-resourced and provides inconsistent support services for Disabled children and Young people in mainstream settings. In addition, resources are being taken from mainstream provisions to support special schools and alternative provisions that provide limited opportunities and marginalise Disabled children and Young people. Consequently, too many are not in school and not accessing learning, signifying a denial of their human rights. This social injustice has a disproportionate impact on Disabled children and Young people who come from families that are under-resourced intersecting with race and other backgrounds.
Looking at the government’s plan to introduce the British Advance Standard and increase the number of Young people undertaking ‘high quality apprenticeships’, it is apparent that these reforms will be of little benefit to Disabled children and Young people.
These reforms affect post-16 education, and this is a problem because many Disabled children and Young people are denied the opportunity to progress to this stage because of the systematic barriers and injustices described above. In the 2021/22 academic year, only around a third (37.1%) of Disabled pupils labelled with SEN (Special Education Needs) in year 11 achieved Level 2 (equivalent to 5+ A*- C/ 9-4 at GCSE) including English and mathematics (GCSEs). This means that two thirds of Disabled pupils labelled with SEN are automatically excluded from the proposed reforms because they are unlikely to qualify for the British Advance Standard or apprenticeships.
Beyond that, those Disabled children and Young people who progress to the British Advance Standard, when it is introduced, will find themselves in a learning environment that is not designed for Disabled people, as the thrust of the introduction of the British Advance Standard is to increase the competitiveness of Britain’s post-16 qualification on an international level. The suggested British Advance Standard will also maintain a segregated education system, where the education of Disabled people has the lowest value among the different communities and groups. This will be done with little or no consideration of how these changes will impact on the learning or educational outcomes of Disabled children and Young people.
In particular, the British Advance Standard will require students to study five subjects including English and maths. This increased workload and focus on English and maths will disadvantage some Disabled children and Young people, especially those who have support needs that are currently being ignored by the system. These students will be disadvantaged in the exams that they will be required to earn the qualification if the assessment tools remain the same, and nothing is done to ensure that the assessment tools are inclusive and accessible to all.
It is also likely that Disabled children and Young people will not be priority in the plan to increase the number of Young people undertaking ‘high quality apprenticeships’, as the government currently provides supported apprenticeships for Disabled Young people with high support needs. However, this is likely to limit the opportunities for better employment and benefits.
The government’s approach to providing education is failing many Disabled children and Young people. The government has proposed to introduce the British Advance Standard and to increase the number of Young people undertaking ‘high quality apprenticeships’. These reforms are unlikely to benefit the many Disabled children and Young people, due to deep rooted structural and systematic educational barriers. Furthermore, if everything else remains the same, these reforms will increase the marginalisation of Disabled children and Young people in education.