Inclusion Now 45

Segregation in Ashton-on-Mersey

Rupy Kaur has positive memories of her mainstream school, but is concerned about their current plans

Ashton on Mersey were trail blazers. Now they are setting the clock back.As a disabled student Ashton on Mersey delivered a great education for me. Now they are set to put up barriers for the next generation of disabled students.

I was born in the late ‘80s, an era when disability was kept out of the norm, and a disabled child attending a mainstream school was taboo. I started my early years at a “special needs” nursery called Rodney House, followed by a “special needs” primary school, Lancasterian. I was born with cerebral palsy and because I was disabled only special needs schools would accept me.

Don’t get me wrong, special school had perks – I had physiotherapy every day, and occasional hydrotherapy. But that was it. I was not pushed academically, and I was bored. We did get workbooks that I completed keenly, and I thought I was a mini Einstein as I was so quick to finish them.

I was brought up by my auntie and uncle. I remember in 1992, the new Education Act came out, which moved my uncle to push for me to attend mainstream school. He succeeded, but we were not able to get the school of our choice because there were only a few mainstream schools that accepted disabled pupils. These were called “barrier-free” schools. I completed my last year of primary school in Levenshulme, which was 12.2 miles away from where I lived, and completed two years of secondary school in Wythenshawe, 8 miles away. I really enjoyed these schools, though when I finally got there, I realised I was not as academically bright as I had thought, and had to work hard to catch up with the other children. Additionally, it was very hard to socialise with my peers outside of school because they lived so far away. They didn’t really know my area and I couldn’t hang out with them after school because I had a taxi scheduled at the end of the day to bring me straight home. I felt like an outsider.

Ironically, there was a perfectly well-functioning mainstream secondary school across the road from me: Ashton-on-Mersey High School. I think Ashton is where I truly excelled. I loved the school, and socialising with peers from my local area. Because I enjoyed my environment, I flourished academically, and for the first time I felt accepted for being me. My disability was not perceived as being “other”, and socialisation made me feel part of the norm. Of course, at times I did feel different, but most teenagers feel different in some way or another.

Without attending Ashton, I would have never been able to attend my local grammar school and receive three As at A-level, study psychology at a top university, become a national representative of disabled students in the UK, sit on the board of a leading disability charity, and be working towards becoming a Doctor of Health Psychology.

I stand by my belief that a good education is the key to success, whether through academia or preparing a child to function in the real world. I actually visited Ashton a few years ago and was amazed by their determination to include disabled pupils. When I was at school, there were only a handful of disabled pupils, but when I visited, they were very proud to tell me they now had over 100 disabled children and that each individual was supported so they could socialise with their peers, disabled or not. I was so proud of the school and proud to be a part of its history. I went back to the charity that I was a board director of and encouraged them to apply the same practice. I don’t agree with segregation in any sense of the word, whether because of disability, gender or religious beliefs; Ashton was a prime example of how everybody could work together in order to socialise children of diverse backgrounds and abilities for the real world.

Last year, my nephew completed his eleven-plus exams. He got accepted into a well-renowned local grammar school. However, because of the excellence I had seen in Ashton, I actively pushed for him to attend this school instead. For my nephew, I wanted a future where disability is in the norm and to see him socialised in an environment where he knows no difference.

I was therefore extremely disappointed to read a recent article whereby I discovered that Ashton had decided to transfer its new cohort of disabled pupils to another of its schools, 6 miles away. Ashton-on-Mersey is part of the Dean Trust, which runs several schools across the Northwest. The papers have described this cohort as moving from a “well-performing school to a worse school because of limited resources.” This may be the case, but for me there is a bigger issue. As I said before, education is not just about academic success, but the socialisation of children to accept people from diverse backgrounds. I am not just disappointed for the new cohort of disabled students, but for the current students of the school, disabled or not. If the school goes ahead with this decision, it is sending an outward message to children like my nephew that disabled people are not part of the norm, and should be dealt with separately. I want my nephew to grow up in a world which accepts differences; to come back from school knowing that disability is part of the norm, rather than boasting about how much money Rashford is earning at Manchester United while still receiving a sound education at Ashton due to its capacity as a sports college with funding from the club. If Ashton-on-Mersey can provide such an education to these young players, and has been doing since 1998, then I am sure there is a way to resource education for disabled pupils.

Ashton-on-Mersey should be proud of its accomplishment of educating those from different backgrounds, whether they are Manchester United’s next top player or a child with cerebral palsy. We are not back in the 80s, we are in 2016, and I urge Ashton to reconsider its decision to move its new cohort of disabled children to another school when they could be setting a prime example for all academies to follow.

Rupy Kaur