Inclusion Now 47

General election 2017

When the Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced a snap general election recently to take place on the 8th June, it seemed that the only issue political parties were going to focus on was Brexit. Thankfully as the election date draws closer other issues are bubbling to the surface including education – in particular selective education and school funding cuts.

At the time of going to press we are still waiting for each of the political parties to officially publish their manifestos, but we know already the current administration is determined to force through selective education by increasing the number of grammar schools. It is likely therefore that all parties will use their manifestos to set out their position on this issue.

This really is our opportunity to secure support from prospective parliamentary candidates of all parties for the very different type of education system we want – an education system that is focused on inclusivity, equality and welcome for all including disabled pupils and students with or without SEN.

Given the increasing disquiet amongst teaching and education unions, campaigning organisations and parents about severe cuts to school budgets, political parties are very likely to set out their position on funding for education. ALLFIE knows this is a huge issue for parents and disabled pupils and students. Indeed the Local Government Association has said that the continued cuts to SEND budgets will lead to local authorities failing in their statutory duties, particularly around the presumption of mainstream education for disabled pupils and students.

So given the general election date is very close ALLFIE has decided to focus on these two issues specifically. We have approached the four main parties and asked them about selective education and the impact on disabled pupils and students, and about the impact that school funding cuts will have on the inclusion of disabled pupils and students with SEN in mainstream education.

We have set out their responses over the next couple of pages and you will see that it’s a bit of a mixed bag, so there is a huge amount for the inclusive education movement to do if we’re going to build a groundswell of support for disabled people’s right to inclusive education that the next government cannot ignore!

These are the two election asks we asked all of the parties to commit to:

  • Full implementation of disabled pupils’ and students’ human rights to mainstream education under UNCRPD Article 24 and the Children and Families Act 2014.
  • Full funding of a universal inclusive education system that will include the support disabled pupils and students need to flourish in mainstream education.

Tara Flood

The political parties’ positions

Scottish National Party (SNP)

Former SNP Westminster spokesperson for Social Justice and Welfare and candidate for Banff and Buchan Eilidh Whiteford said: “The SNP is a strong supporter of the presumption of mainstream education. We support the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc Act 2000 that places a duty on education authorities to provide education in a mainstream school unless specific exceptions apply.

“A cornerstone of our inclusive approach to education is the presumption of mainstreaming for pupils with additional support needs.

“We know that significant numbers of children, young people and their families have benefited from that inclusive approach. However, it is necessary that we ensure that the approach to mainstreaming is undertaken in an effective fashion, which is why John Swinney Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education has commissioned a review of the guidance on mainstreaming.

“That is to ensure that the existing guidance reflects the legislative and policy context and succeeds in delivering on individuals’ expectations. The extended consultation on that guidance will begin on 19 May and will run until the end of August. That will enable individuals to respond to the issues over a long period of time.

“The SNP wants all children and young people to receive the full support that they need to reach their full potential and will continue working hard to help enable this.”

Labour Party

The Labour manifesto includes the following: “We will deliver a strategy for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) based on inclusivity, and embed SEND more substantially into training for teachers and non-teaching staff, so that staff, children and their parents are properly supported.”

The manifesto also lists the following:

  • “The world’s most successful education systems use more continuous assessment, which avoids ‘teaching for the test’.
  • “Set targets to increase apprenticeships for people with disabilities, care leavers and veterans, and ensure broad representation of women, BAME,LBGT and people with disabilities in all kinds of apprenticeships.
  • “Labour believes education should be free, and will end tuition fees for those students in higher education.”

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats responded:

“Full implementation of disabled pupils’ and students human rights to mainstream education (including apprenticeships) under UNCRPD Article 24 and the Children and Families Act”

The Liberal Democrats are fully committed to this. Successive waves of institutional, curriculum and qualifications reform have been rolled out without regard to the interests of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The Government is then forced to ‘bolt on’ additional guidance when it realises its statutory duties are not being met. Consequently, students with SEND and their parents are forced to navigate an incredibly complex legal framework.

For example, changes to Disabled Students’ Allowance mean that universities must now meet some of the lower-intensity needs of disabled students. However, the Government has not issued guidance on how universities should meet this duty. When Liberal Democrat peer Lord Addington asked Ministers what they would do about this, they replied that “we would let the courts decide” when a university failed to meet its duties. It is simply unacceptable that a 19 year old has to go to court in order to secure for themselves an inclusive university education.

This sort of problem is being replicated across the education system. For this reason, we believe that any new education policy must be preceded by a full impact assessment that considers the effect of the reform on children with SEND. In particular, the policy must be demonstrated to comply with the Equality Act 2010.

” Full funding of a universal inclusive education system that will include the support disabled pupils and students need to flourish in mainstream education.”

Schools face £3 billion of cuts by 2020. This is the most financial pressure schools have been in since the mid-1990s. Around £1.7 billion of these cuts will come to staff budgets, and teachers are telling MPs that counsellors, pastoral services and other support staff will be first to go. Local councils can help schools support vulnerable pupils, but the funding for their support services has been cut by 75%. It is simply unfair that the pupils who need the most support will face the brunt of these cuts.

Yet at the same time, Ministers are introducing two new National Funding Formulas: one for schools and one for high-needs pupils and students at specialist SEND institutions. Approximately 9,000 schools lose out under the formula and so will be hit twice with cuts. The new formula cannot be ‘fair’ on pupils if schools lose money as a result of the changes. The Liberal Democrats will be setting out clear plans to ensure schools receive the funding they need to in our manifesto.

UK Independence Party (UKIP)

A spokesperson for UKIP responded: “The policy of closing special schools will be reversed. Every child is unique and the needs of each child should come first. Those who learn better in a tailored, non-mainstream environment should have the opportunity to do so.”

Conservative Party

A Conservative Party spokesperson said:

“We are determined that every child, no matter the obstacles they face, should have the same opportunity for success as any other. This ambition is backed by a £5.3 billion investment in 2016-17 for children and young people with high needs. We have also announced a £215 million fund for councils across the country to improve and create more special provision, which will help build new classrooms and improve facilities for pupils with special educational needs, so that no child is left behind.

“The choice at the election is clear: it is a choice between Theresa May providing the strong and stable leadership we need for Brexit and beyond to keep on improving schools, or a coalition of chaos and instability led by Jeremy Corbyn, putting our economy and funding for schools at risk.”

Green Party

Mags Lewis, Disability Spokesperson for the Green Party responded:

“The Green Party fully support disabled pupils’ and students’ human rights to a mainstream education. This was in our 2015 manifesto (our 2017 one has yet to be released). The Green Party is committed to the social model of disability, and a basic tenet is to have full inclusivity in education. People who are disabled have a right to participate fully in society.

“Specifically, we will:

  • Support the principles of, and enforce the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  • Recognise the rights of children who are disabled, and their families, in education, in the transition to adult life, in childcare, in healthcare and in the benefits system.
  • Recognise fully the housing needs of people who are disabled, including support with planning and obtaining housing.
  • Increase carers allowance.
  • Recognise rights of disabled children to a mainstream education, through investment and integration of academies and free schools.”

ALLFIE says:
Keep an eye on our website to find out if your local candidate has signed up to our election asks.

For disability news and discussion around the election you can follow the #CripTheVoteUK hashtag on Twitter.