Inclusion Now 45

Article 24 – the right to inclusion

Belinda Shaw discusses developments for inclusive education at the UN

Autumn has been a good season for disabled peoples’ rights to inclusive education. In September the UN issued guidelines clarifying what is required by governments to uphold human rights in education under Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People. The advice on segregation is what ALLFIE has advocated all along: a phasing out of separate, “special” provision is required under the Convention.

Although the Convention did not explicitly ban segregation, ALLFIE and others who took part in the negotiations at the UN over ten years ago understood that the agreement to develop inclusive education systems by governments around the world implied a phased ending of separate provision. The move to fully inclusive education systems, accommodating and supporting all students whatever their impairment or needs, would render “special” education in separate settings unnecessary.

That understanding has now been confirmed by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities in General Comment No. 4 (2016) on inclusive education which states that a core aspect of inclusive education is a commitment “to ending segregation within educational settings by ensuring inclusive classroom teaching in accessible learning environments with appropriate supports”. The Committee also recognises that developing inclusive education “is not compatible with sustaining two systems of education: mainstream and special/segregated education”. It stresses governments’ obligations to move “as expeditiously and effectively as possible’’ to full realisation of Article 24 and urges a “transfer of resources from segregated to inclusive environments”.

The General Comment defines the key challenges in reform for inclusion – exclusion, segregation, integration and inclusion – and highlights the importance of recognising the differences between them. The UN guidelines define segregation as when “the education of students with disabilities is provided in separate environments designed or used to respond to a particular or various impairments in isolation from students without disabilities”. Other definitions can be found at

This guidance means the Government’s policy of a market where parents and disabled learners state a preference for segregated or mainstream schooling cannot claim to fulfil disabled peoples’ human rights to inclusive education under the Convention. It also clarifies that an education policy which increases, rather than reduces, segregated education is in breach of international obligations.

As well as clarifying the position on segregation, the General Comment provides details of other actions required by governments to develop inclusive education and fulfil disabled peoples’ education rights. This proactive approach should include “a comprehensive legislative and policy framework” supported by an education plan with timeframes, goals and monitoring mechanisms – an approach which Allfie has consistently recommended over the years. While the Conservative government in the UK would have to make big changes in values and doctrine to fulfil its UN obligations as now clarified in the General Comment, recent initiatives in the Labour Party potentially bring it closer to an education policy in line with Article 24.

“Education not Segregation” has been Allfie’s slogan since we were founded more than 20 years ago, and is also the slogan being used in Labour’s new campaign against grammar schools. According to Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner, speaking at the recent party conference, selection into grammar schools is “toxic” because of the damage it causes and should be more appropriately named segregation. Hopefully, the party will tackle all forms of segregation in education when formulating the new national education service for all, proposed by Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. The General Comment leaves no doubt that developing inclusive education for all and ending segregation in separate “special” provision over time is the policy direction required to fulfil human rights obligations.

Belinda Shaw, long time ALLFIE member