David Cameron challenged on special educational needs and inclusion

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.


6 thoughts on “David Cameron challenged on special educational needs and inclusion

  1. I was puzzled by the whole thing. Mostly mainstream is the last place to put an disabled child (Bugger to sham inclusion policies), namely because it is blatantly clear the support is just not there, so we would be doing our kids a disservice forcing the issue, believe me I KNOW, they insisted in trying to ‘include’ my child but there was not a single teacher experienced in his issue, and he was put in a corridor with a baby sitter and left to rot i.e. until I went to the school and pulled him out of it, I wasn’t having this sort of inclusion at any price. When you have a child like mine that is autistic and CANNOT Function in mainstream setting it is academic anyway. I can understand a parent wanting a child near home, and with siblings etc, but sometimes special schools are the ONLY place that is suitable. At this time they are telling me my child may soon attend a mainstream college part time, I have told them no way it will happen, until I can see the support is there, he will be kept at special school, I’d fight them to the end. Maybe Cameron was simply stating the bare facts, inclusion is a cruel myth, and often unsuitable for some disabled children. Mainstream hasn’t the specialisation, and it would be cost prohibitive as well as poor resource usage to help the majority. Inclusion will only work for a small percentage of disabled kids, even then huge resources need to be in place, area by area it’s not practicable. OK if are in a city not realistic if you live in a village somewhere… Most are bussed to city schools already, but these ‘annex’s they want our children in, are just segregation by any other name…. our kids are trotted out at school assembly isolated the rest of the time !

  2. What is clear from statistics published by the government is that the number of deaf pupils attending special schools is still on the decline. These figures show that in 2005 1,750 pupils where “hearing impairment was the main type of special educational need” attended special schools. By 2009 the number had dropped to 1,570. This represents a 10% reduction over a 4 year period.

    What is less clear is the reason for this decline:

    – Is the reduction explained by what the Conservative manifesto describes as a “bias towards mainstream schools” where parents are being denied choice over type of school their child attends?
    – Is the decline due to a parental preference towards mainstream schools?
    – Is it because advances in health services such as new born hearing screening, cochlear implants make attendance at mainstream a more feasible proposition for some children than it was 10 years ago?
    – Is it for some other reason?

    I would be interested in what others think and what evidence or experiences they have to support their views.

  3. I agree with David Cameron, “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.”its all about the choice, in my experince”.
    I am fighting at present to get my eleven year old son who HFA/Aspergers into a special ASD specific school for his secondary plaement. One that can also provide adequately for his academic abilities, as well as his sensory/social etc needs. I have found it has swung around too far in the opposite direction away from a choice to have a child go to a specialist provision (and not just any, but the right specialist provision) to it seems make them be included in mainstream. Mainstream is not the place for him, as much as I may of wished it to be, he has attended mainstream primary, and the last four years have been nothing but a complete struggle, not because he is not academically able, but because of his inability to access many things because of his anxities caused by his sensory and social difficulties and his ridged way of thinking. I have come across too many fixed views on what Aspergers/HFA children are like and what they can and cannot cope with. Like any other people, they are all very individual, and I am not only fighting for his right to a adequate education for his needs, ability but also for his future. It is the right to choose whats right for the individual child.

  4. Thanks for your comment. Just to clarify, David Cameron doesn’t have a deaf child. He did have a child with cerebral palsy but, sadly, the child died last year.

  5. I agree with David Cameron. If parents do not advocate for their children’s rights for a good education, then their children will be on a to find gainful employment in the future. I was educated before they will laws on the books guaranteeing people with disabilities the right to an education, therefore, teachers didn’t understand that I learn differently. Because IDEA did not become law until 1977, and because my parents refuse to advocate for my rights, it was only due to my tenacity, that I have an education today. I had to learn as an adult to become my own advocate to make sure that my rights were being met by society.

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