As the Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) marks and celebrates 30 years of reform, Simone Aspis says the Government needs to remember the part it has played in history.
Just 40 years ago, many disabled children were considered as “uneducable”, and “unsuitable for education at school”. Some 32,000 disabled children attending junior training centres, special care units and hospitals were denied an education until the 1970 Education (Handicapped Children) Act, which outlawed the practice of classifying children as uneducable.
This move was supported by the Warnock Special Educational Needs report (1978) which recognised that children with special educational needs (SEN) could be educated within mainstream schools. Three years later there was landmark legislation to support this view. The 1981 Education Act, which received all-party support in Parliament, placed inclusive education within a legal framework for the first time.
The 1981 Education Act imposed two duties on local authorities; firstly to identify, assess and arrange appropriate provision for children and young people with special educational needs and secondly, to give greater weight to parental preference when choosing school placements. This second duty was subject to three conditions: whether the disabled child can be educated in mainstream school, that the education of other children will not be adversely affected and whether there is an efficient use of resources.
Whilst the 1981 Education Act was a significant step forward, there was only really a “moral” duty to provide supported mainstream provision for children with SEN. Initially there was no legal mechanism to enforce children’s rights to attend a mainstream school with appropriate SEN provision. It was not until the 1993 Education Act that children and young people with SEN had an increased, but still qualified right to mainstream education. This is because parents could challenge decisions made by local authorities and schools through an independent tribunal process. The tribunal panel were able to order local authorities to place a child with an appropriate support package in a mainstream school.
From 1996, disabled children’s entitlement to mainstream education was no longer dependent on the “efficient use of resources” condition.
But it was not until 2001, with the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act, that schools were prohibited from discriminating against disabled children. Schools were now required to make reasonable adjustments for their disabled pupils. At a strategic level, both local authorities and schools were required to promote equality between disabled and non-disabled children as part of their 2005 Disability Discrimination Act disability equality duties. As a consequence, both schools and local authorities were required to demonstrate how they were actively removing barriers that could prevent disabled children and young people from participating in mainstream education.
Despite the clear progress that has been made, the ConDem Government have decided to ignore this and focus on removing the “bias” towards inclusive education by ripping up 30 years of excellent progress.
During Disability History Month, we at ALLFIE want to remind the Conservative majority Government that they were the instigators of the 1981 Education Act that first gave disabled children and young people a chance to be part of mainstream, and the damage they will do if they continue to ignore the work that has been done to build the capacity of mainstream schools to be more inclusive. We want to use the 30th Anniversary of the 1981 Education Act to generate a national dialogue between disabled people, schools and politicians. We are encouraging everyone to get involved in the dialogue.
You could: Ask your MP to sign the Inclusive Education Early Day Motion; write a letter to Michael Gove MP (Secretary of State for Education) asking him to continue to build on the progress that has been made over the last 30 years; set up a visit for your MP/councillors to a local school that you know welcomes disabled children and young people or arrange a meeting in the community to promote inclusive education practice – don’t forget to invite your local politicians!
This is such an important and positive opportunity for disabled people and our allies to challenge the Government’s current plans for education, which if implemented could turn the clock back on our right to be part of the mainstream 30 years. Get involved in ALLFIE’s “We Know Inclusion Works” campaign and be part of the movement of people who believe in an inclusive future for all our young people!