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MP hints at Labour bias towards inclusive education

(28 March 2012)

The MP leading a review of Labour’s special educational needs (SEN) policy has suggested it will recommend a far more inclusive approach than the coalition government’s anti-inclusion stance.

Sharon Hodgson, the shadow minister for children and families, was taking evidence from campaigners at an event organised by the Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE).

Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s director, said the Labour Party was now in a “fantastic” position to “do something innovative, to do something creative and brave” on inclusion, but must first realise that the “current system isn’t working”.

She said: “This is the chance when the current government are so determined in terms of inclusion to turn the clock back 30 years. Those of us who succeed do that despite the current system.”

Nicholas Russell, co-chair of Labour’s disabled members group, said the review needed to address the bullying of disabled pupils.

He said: “If you deal with bullying in schools then hopefully you will have a lot less disability hate crime.”

He also called for the review to recommend that more disabled people become school governors, and are given the support they need to do that.

Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, told Hodgson that disabled people must have “complete human and civil rights to access mainstream education”, while there must be a focus on the barriers that need to be removed to enable disabled people to learn.

Hodgson, whose son is disabled, said she believed that including disabled children in mainstream schools would help other children grow up without prejudice, which was “why we really have to fight for this”.

She said she disagreed with David Cameron’s view that there was a “bias towards inclusion” in the education system.

And she suggested that her review would recommend mandatory SEN training for all student teachers, with schools also forced to use one of their five annual “inset” training days to improve their teachers’ SEN knowledge.

Sarifa Patel, ALLFIE’s co-chair, told Hodgson that disability history should be taught in schools, while teachers should be taught about the social model of disability during their training.

She also pointed out that parents of disabled children from black and minority ethnic communities faced the additional barrier of institutional racism in the education system.

Miro Griffiths, a disability equality consultant, said schools must understand how disabled young people can be supported into employment through schemes such as Access to Work.

Lucy Bartley, whose husband Jonathan challenged David Cameron in front of TV cameras during the 2010 election campaign on the Conservative leader’s pledge to “end the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools”, said the resistance they had faced in trying to ensure their disabled son Samuel attended a mainstream school had been “all about attitudes”.

She said his eventual inclusion had changed the culture of the school, and added: “Enabling our children to be within mainstream provision changes that provision.”

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