Protestors challenge schools minister over inclusion in children and families bill

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The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) is lobbying schools minister Lord Nash to change the wording of the Special Educational Needs (SEN) reforms in the children and families bill.

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ALLFIE is concerned that the right to mainstream education is being eroded.

Around 30 protestors from the alliance gathered at the DfE building in London last week to demand a meeting with minister to coincide with International Human Rights Day and the final report stage of the bill in the House of Lords.

Members of the alliance dressed as ghosts as part of their ‘ghosts of segregation past and future’ campaign and blocked the entrance to the building for the second time since the drafting of the bill.

ALLFIE is calling on the Government to include a commitment to ensure an inclusive education system for people with disabilities, as required by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in the ‘general principles’ clause.

As the bill currently stands, ‘inclusion’ is not directly referred to anywhere in the legislation.

This was a measure advised by the joint committee on human rights in its legislative scrutiny of the Bill.

The draft SEN Code of Practice does make reference to ‘the general principle of inclusion’ to describe the statutory presumption in favour of education in a mainstream setting.

Simone Aspis of ALLFIE said, ‘We are very disappointed that the government is still not willing to amend the Bill to provide certainty that it will protect young people’s right to access mainstream education. With half of children with special educational needs in special schools, there is still a long way to go to achieve inclusive practice. There is certainly no bias towards it and the government is in real danger of complacency on the issue.

‘We are looking for a commitment from Lord Nash and the Government, even at this late stage, that any potential conflicts between the children and families bill and the UN convention will be removed.’

As a result of the protest, Lord Nash agreed to a meeting with the group on the day of the second report stage in the House of Lords on Tuesday.

Disability campaigner and former nursery worker Melanie Hibbert-Bown, who has two children with learning disabilities, attended the meeting. She said, ‘I think Lord Nash was gobsmacked that people were opposing his legislation, which makes me wonder who he’s been speaking to. There’s a good quote about disability, “Nothing about us without us”, which I think is true in this case. You have to understand what disability is and what inclusion means to contemplate making changes, and how can you implement new legislation if you haven’t spoken to people at the heart of the issue?

‘I didn’t know anything about disability before I had my daughters, but with education and integration you can find out, and that will hopefully help to remove discrimination and prejudice.’

Lord Nash has agreed to meet with ALLFIE again before the Bill is passed.

A spokesperson for the DfE said, ‘The Children and Families Bill retains the general principle of inclusion and the draft SEN Code of Practice makes clear that most children with SEN will be taught in mainstream schools. The draft Code also includes key elements of the Inclusive Schooling guidance.'

The children and families bill proposes to replace special and educational needs statements (for schools) and learning difficulty assessments (for young people in further education and training) with single 0-25 education, health and care plans.