Letter to Gillian Keegan MP, Secretary of State for Education
ALLFIE’s letter to the Education Minister regarding the importance of inclusive education and our concerns with the current education system, including the absence of a fully implemented Article 24 (on inclusive education) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
As the Director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education, I welcome you into your new appointed role as Secretary of State for Education. Our work intersects with several areas that the Department for Education are responsible for including, Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), high needs funding and alternative provision. During this time of uncertainty, it is vital that Disabled people have educational equity and that their potential and life courses do not become a casualty of the current circumstances. We welcome your message to the education and care sector on SEND reform, and your commitment to delaying the release of the reform in order to truly listen and consider the consultation and voices of Disabled people.
We would like the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the importance of inclusive education. ALLFIE has over 30 years of experience and is the only Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO) specialising in the field of education. We passionately believe that inclusive education is a fundamental human right, as set out by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and is the basis for all Disabled people to develop, achieve and thrive.
ALLFIE have been active in the recent SEND Review consultation, enabling a wide range of partners to participate in the discussion including teaching professionals, parents and by centring the voices of Disabled children and young people themselves. We believe that the SEND Review could be a vehicle for real, positive transformation, if it centres a truly intersectional, inclusive vision and is led by the experience and expertise of Disabled people.
We need a clear and comprehensive working definition of inclusive education that is aligned to the UNCRPD (on article 24). This knowledge is essential to embed into the development of successful working practices, that all Disabled young people, parents, institutions, local authorities, and funding agencies are expected to use to guide their practices, operations and decision-making.
While we recognise the additional funding within your message, the current framework sees educational inclusion underfunded, with baseline funding decreasing in mainstream settings and funding increasingly being invested in segregated provisions, which consequently limits the life chances and potential for Disabled people to achieve in all areas of our society. We are gravely concerned by recent reports that suggest that Local Authorities are being pressured to cut SEND funding in exchange for broader financial assistance from the Government1. In this current crisis, where schools are considering a four-day week2, facing financial collapse3, and are unable to retain essential SEN-focused staff4, we request that as a starting point, the Department for Education give some reassurance that funding intended to support Disabled pupils to access education will be protected and will meet the need. Education is the bedrock of society, and it is necessary that Disabled people, who are disproportionately impacted by every aspect of this crisis, are given the right to lifelong education, and therefore the pathway to reach their potential, within their communities and as part of society as a whole.
We know from this summer’s statistics5, that the permanent exclusion rate for pupils with an education, health and care plan (EHCP) is 0.08, higher still for pupils labelled with SEN with no EHC plan (SEN support) is 0.15, compared to 0.03 for those without SEN. The suspension rate is also higher, at 12.98 for pupils with an EHC plan and 11.86 for pupils labelled with SEN support, compared to 2.80 for those without SEN. Thus, the Government’s own data makes a compelling argument for a change to the current status quo. We offer an evidenced-based approach to ensuring children and young people fulfil their potential in education, with the unparalleled expertise of being an organisation that is led by Disabled people with lived experience.
It is imperative that any reform aligns with the UNCRPD, which frames education as a human right, that is centred upon inclusive education. We are deeply concerned about the concept of care and health becoming increasingly synonymous with education, and as a DPO, we believe that Disabled people should have access to autonomous lives with the assistance of independent living. While it is important that Disabled pupils have access to healthcare and social care, needing access to these provision should not supersede the right to education.
The work of the Department for Education is key to defining the outcomes for Disabled people and we would welcome establishing a long-term, equitable and consultative relationship with the Department. We look forward to speaking to you and working with you and your ministerial team to realise the sustainable and successful vision of inclusive education.
Director to Alliance for Inclusive Education