Lord loves a troublemaker. Yesterday, special educational needs and disability made its first major appearance on the election campaign trail when a father of a disabled son heckled David Cameron, leader of the Conservative party, in front of the TV cameras.
His main point of objection? That the Conservative manifesto states that the party will “end the bias” towards mainstream schools for children with special educational needs and disability. And also stop the closure of special schools. The father argued that there was actually a bias against inclusion in mainstream schools, evidenced by his struggle to get his son into his local mainstream school.
What makes this quite interesting is that David Cameron previously had a disabled son, whilst the Conservative lead on education, Michael Gove, has a deaf sister who attended a special school for the deaf. You’d be hard pressed to come across two senior politicians with such a personal and direct experience of disability.
The Conservatives argue that they’re not in favour of “reversing” the bias or moving towards segregation for disabled children in schools – simply, that they want more parental choice. When Michael Gove was interviewed by three deaf students in January, he said:
“I think for years now we have had this assumption that it’s always better for children who have a hearing impairment or who are living with another disability to be in mainstream school. My view is that there should be a choice. It depends on the child, it depends on the parent, it depends on individual circumstances. And it’s wrong to have a fixed view on this.”
Many would agree that there needs to be choice and flexibility so that the child and parents gets what they need and want. It’s broadly consistent with the Labour party and the Liberal Democrat party’s vision for children with special educational needs. And looking at the National Deaf Children’s Society statement on inclusion, there is a call for a spectrum of provision to ensure that parents of deaf children can, in fact, have this choice.
Nevertheless, the line “ending the bias” has raised a few eyebrows within the charitable sector and the parties do differ in their emphasis and their specific policies fror making sure disabled children are able to fulfil their potential. More widely, it’s fair to say that there are some fairly entrenched views on whether the problem is that local authorities won’t fund places for disabled children in mainstream classrooms, or for special schools, further away. Certainly, many parents of deaf children seem to struggle to get the provision they want, regardless. I suspect, in many areas, there is simply not enough money given to pupils with special educational needs and disability, even though such pupils amount to one in five of the school population.
Despite the lack of answers, it’s good to see this issue getting an airing during the election. Congratulations to Mr. Angry Dad of Disabled Son for making this happen.
To help you make up your own mind, NDCS’s summary of the main three UK party manifestos on deaf children can be found in the manifestos section of the NDCS election web special. Let us know below what you think of what the parties are saying on special educational needs and disability.