Inclusion Now 65

The SEND Review: New hope or a further segregation story?

Campaign news from Amelia McLoughlan, ALLFIE’s Campaigns and Policy Coordinator

Photograph of Amelia McLoughlan, ALLFIE's Campaigns and Policy Coordinator, smiling to camera

It has been an agonisingly long journey since ALLFIE released our consultation submission for the SEND Review Green Paper in 2020. Three years ago, we made it clear that the mainstream education clause in the Children’s and Families Act does not sufficiently protect Disabled students’ right to mainstream education.

This includes with the presumption of that right having been undermined by withdrawing ‘Inclusive Schooling Guidance’ and the concept of “incompatibility of efficient education of other pupils”. This is one of many policy clauses, including COVID-19 ruling which suspended and rendered the Act affectively null and void, which have blocked the practical implementation of inclusive mainstream education in the UK.

ALLFIE’s Chairperson Navin Kikabhai summarised ALLFIE’s SEND Review submission with his aptly titled article: Wrong Support, wrong Place, wrong time and wrong direction

While we reiterated that the SEND Review claims to be centred around education reform for those labelled with ‘Special Educational Needs and Disabilities’, we need to further examine how mainstream education legislation and policies are undermining the core principle of the inclusive mainstream education, and its sequential pathway to segregation, especially in this current environment of increasing exclusion. The release of the SEND Review itself has been subject to a catastrophic number of delays, due in part to political turmoil, funding crisis, and a call for further consultation. However, various reports published at the end of 2022 give us an insight into the minds of policymakers and the emergence of a concerning narrative.

For example the Children’s Commissioner Report, based on case studies of only 55 children within state care and 650 EHCPs from only two local authorities, was deemed enough to build a national picture. Rather than pursuing inclusive education strategy in line with Article 24 of the United Nations Convention (UNCRPD), which ratifies inclusive education for all Disabled people as a human right. This report deeply conflated care and education, by using terms interchangeably, to erase individual rights to education, healthcare and independent living, alongside recommending that ability-led “interventions” begin as young as 2 years old. The impact of this could potentially assign a child to segregated provision years before ever entering an educational environment. It also largely assumes that all disabilities would be present in early childhood and not that disability can emerge at any age.

A report on Home Education from the Centre for Social Justice further found children with SEN and/or EHCP likely to have “no final destination” and again, rather than look to Article 24 for a sustainable inclusive solution, recommends replacing the home education system on broadly the same principles.

This continued strategic thinking towards segregation follows previous statements by government, with the announcement of the opening of 60 new special schools. The justification being to address a lack of provision but as our previous article demonstrated, funding for support and provision is not being implemented inclusively.

Local MPs are telling us this solution is based on the ‘few not the many’. Which is the wrong way round for inclusion. More concerning still is the rebranding of Special Schools as “Specialist”, with BBC documentaries displaying ‘idyllic’ settings far removed from the repeated reports of abuse and overcrowding that has led to children being taught in cupboards.

A bombardment of content has repeatedly drawn on the crisis parents face to seek educational access for their children, in chronically underfunded mainstream schools, having to resort to legal battles for special provision, that is driven by a lack of inclusive settings, and not by choice. This drive towards “Specialist” rebranded segregation is not isolated from previous comments by ministers describing Disabled children as disruptive and of detriment to the educational achievement of non-disabled children.

Should we then be shocked at the outpouring of parents fighting for the only option that seems achievable and timely? Especially when inclusive education within mainstream schools is only a footnote in the media landscape, and even then is associated with failure… perhaps not.

A cynic may conclude that a SEND Review completely void of any human rights values, or references to the UNCRPD, may have been crafted to feed into this existing narrative – one created to pursue a specific ideological agenda. One that, as IPSEA states may not even be compatible with the existing legal framework if implemented.

More on the SEND Review