Parliamentary Briefings & Consultation Responses

Submission to SEND All Party Parliamentary Group on Covid-19 Inquiry

ALLFIE has responded to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 on educational transitions for children and young people with SEND.

The Alliance for Inclusive Education’s written submission to APPG’s SEND inquiry – the impact of Covid-19 on educational transitions for children and young people with SEND | Autumn 2020

Who is ALLFIE?

The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) is the only national organisation led by disabled people working on educational issues and, in particular, working to promote the right for disabled students (including those with special educational needs and disabilities; SEND) to be included in mainstream education, as set out in Article 24 of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The principles of inclusive education apply to all disabled people with different impairments and health conditions, including those with significant learning difficulties. Consequently, our written and oral submissions will cover disabled children with communication and interaction, cognition and learning, social, emotional and mental health, and physical and sensory needs; the four categories of special educational needs.

ALLFIE’s work

Over the past 30 years, ALLFIE has successfully campaigned for changes in law so that disabled students have the right to inclusive education. Our achievements include:

  • The “presumption of mainstream education” for disabled school aged children became a statutory duty in the Education Act 1996.
  • Outlawing disability-related discrimination in the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001.
  • The inclusion of Article 24, detailing disabled people’s right to inclusive education, into the UNCRPD in 2009.
  • Various changes to the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 to make statutory accredited the apprenticeship scheme more inclusive of disabled apprentices.
  • The “presumption of mainstream education” being extended for disabled students in school and further education up to the age of 25 under the Children and Families Act 2014.
  • Reinstating disabled children’s right to SEND provision and, where necessary, education, health and care assessments and plans within a strict 20-week time limit through the Children and Families Act 2014 easements, which had been temporarily suspended as part of the Coronavirus Act 2020 provisions.

In addition, ALLFIE has been invited to take part in leading court cases which raises questions about inclusive education practice. We have also provided:

  • A witness statement on the organisation and provision of SEND for disabled pupils with visual impairments within mainstream school settings, as set out in the London Borough of Redbridge’s policy; this was heard in Z v Redbridge Local Authority, a high court case in 2019.
  • The legal arguments used in Disabled children v Secretary of State for Education and Chancellor of the Exchequer, a 2019 high court case which involved challenging the Government’s SEND funding cuts policy; these were the same ones from our submission against the Hackney local authority’s SEND cuts policy.
  • Provided a witness statement about inclusive education provision for disabled pupils with learning and behavioural difficulties within M.C. and others v Romania, a court case being heard by the European Court on Human Rights in 2019.

ALLFIE’s focus during the coronavirus pandemic

ALLFIE has been raising awareness of the negative impact of the Government’s Coronavirus Act provisions upon disabled students, where many of them have been without access to mainstream education for over half a year. The ALLFIE website details our Covid-19 campaign work.

The Disabled Children’s Partnership supports ALLFIE’s survey findings that disabled pupils are being denied access to mainstream education through the withdrawal or reduction of special education needs provision alongside inaccessible remote education and alternative learning opportunities as a result of limited engagement between education institutions and disabled students and their parents. The Children and Families Act’s easements have been an absolute disaster for disabled students. The “reasonable endeavours” by local authorities in practice means “no endeavours” to secure SEND provision even in an alternative manner for disabled students during lockdown.

For more information about the negative impacts the Children and Families Act’s easements have had upon disabled students, our parliamentary briefings and written submissions for individual MPs and select committees can be examined.

We decided to focus our attention on remote education, an area of education overlooked within inclusive education practices. Education institutions’ duties around remote education have made a timely arrival, since schools will be under a statutory duty to provide remote education for compulsory school-aged children affected by Covid-19 from October 22nd, 2020. The Department for Education have published different guidance documents for schools, colleges and universities.

ALLFIE’s survey report: the impact of the coronavirus on disabled people’s education

ALLFIE has surveyed its members and invited Facebook posts to enlist disabled school, college and university students, as well as parents and educational professionals’ experiences of the provision of education services throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Survey respondents identified online learning and assistive technology, accessibility of virtual platforms, in-person support and coursework assessment arrangements as being major barriers that disabled students experienced in participating in mainstream education during lockdown.

  • 83% of parents are expected to home school their disabled children.
  • 54% of parents have not received any support from either the local authority or school to help with home schooling.
  • 34% of parents have received some (but not a sufficient level of) support to help with home schooling.

We discovered that there is currently no clear legal framework setting out who is responsible for the accessibility of online learning platforms, curriculum delivery, in-person support and the like under the Equality Act 2010, Public Sector Bodies (Website and Mobile Applications) (No 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018, UNCRPD Article 24 or the Human Rights Act 1998.

Unfortunately, the Coronavirus Act 2020’s Provision of Remote Education Temporary Continuity Direction places a duty upon schools to provide remote education for children affected by Covid-19 restrictions from October 22nd but will not provide any further clarity around who’s responsible for arranging inclusive remote learning opportunities for their disabled pupils.

The full “ALLFIE Survey Report: Coronavirus Impact on Disabled People’s Education” survey can be found on our website. Similarly, the Digital Exclusion/Inclusion Case Study for HEAR Equality and Human Rights Network is available here.

In the short-term, ALLFIE wants the following:

  • Withdraw the Secretary of State for Education’s power to modify the Children and Families Act.
  • Further research to investigate the area of developing and supporting inclusive remote education opportunities; this complies with the Government’s legal and human rights obligations and duties. Remote education research must be led by and involve disabled students where recommendations are shared with disabled people and parent led organisations, education institutions, and virtual learning platform providers and policy makers.
  • The same duty must apply to all education institutions to arrange remote education under the revised Secretary of State for Education’s direction; this must be inclusive of all disabled students.
  • The courses that disabled students have enrolled onto must be provided in a different manner if remote education is an unsuitable method of learning for them.
  • The Department for Education’s statutory guidance should clearly state who is responsible for making various aspects of remote education inclusive of disabled students under both the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 and Equality Act provisions. This would cover local authorities, education institutions, virtual learning platforms and online lesson providers.
  • Greater Government enforcement regarding education institutions with websites and virtual online platforms that fail to comply with the requirements of the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018.
  • OFSTED, Office for Students and other inspection bodies must have the power to inspect the remote education facilities arranged by education providers alongside promotion of inclusive education practice.
  • The Department for Education must clearly set out that remote education should complement rather than replace face-to-face learning.
  • The Department for Education must publish inclusive remote education good practice guidance.
  • Engagement with the Secretary of State for Education and Ministers with a relevant portfolio of policy responsibility and implementation on par with non-disabled people’s organisations.
  • An inclusive Covid-19 recovery plan must be driven by the UNCRPD’s Monitoring Committee’s observations and recommendations, as well as ALLFIE’s Inclusive Education Manifesto demands.
  • The Government must implement the UN’s rapid response recommendations and guidance to comply with their Article 24 (education) obligations during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the long-term, ALLFIE wants the following:

What the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted is that the Government must take urgent steps to strengthen the legal framework that supports disabled students in participating in mainstream education both within mainstream educational settings and from home due to health and impairment-related issues.

ALLFIE’s inclusive education manifesto consisting of six demands would move us from the present situation to a fully inclusive education system, as recommended by UNCRPD’s Monitoring Committee. We believe disabled people have the right to:

  • An inclusive education supported by human rights laws.
  • A coordinated education, health and social care system.
  • An inclusive learning environment.
  • An inclusive curriculum.
  • An inclusive assessment system.
  • An education workforce committed to inclusive education practice.

A full copy of our manifesto can be viewed on our website.

As UNCRPD’s Monitoring Committee has recommended, the Government should work with organisations of disabled people like ALLFIE to develop the aforementioned fully inclusive education system. The Government must fulfil its Article 24 obligations around inclusive education by working with ALLFIE.

We would also welcome the opportunity to provide an oral submission.

For more information, please contact:

Simone Aspis | | 0207 737 6030 | 07856 213 837

Michelle Daley |