This is a charge that Cameron and his team strongly deny. They argue that Tory SEN policy promotes neither inclusion nor specialist provision, but parental choice.


But the Conservative manifesto does have inclusion campaigners worried, as do Liberal Democrat policies on the issue.

The right to inclusion

The Conservatives want to end the “moratorium on the ideologically-driven closure of special schools” and “end the bias towards the inclusion of children with SEN in mainstream schools”.

The Liberal Democrats would provide funding to support inclusion for children with lowto medium SEN. But they also want to end the presumption that “the proportion of children educated in special schools should fall over time”.

Labour, on the other hand, is set to continue encouraging inclusion in mainstream schools, and denies that this policy has led to the demise of specialist provision.

Tara Flood, director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education, is worried that the Conservatives could “turn the clock back 40 years” for children with SEN.

She rejects the assertion that there is a bias toward inclusion, warning that the current system actually makes it very tough for parents to secure the support to enable their child to attend mainstream school.

“The Conservatives are determined to take us back to the days of segregation,” she warns. “They are taking the focus off education and talking about providing care.”

Flood argues that any party that doesn’t support inclusion would be breaching the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which states that children with disabilities must not be excluded from mainstream education.

All the parties need to go much further, she warns: “Not one party showed a single ounce of aspiration for disabled or SEN children and young people in their manifestos.”

But Malcolm Trobe, policy director at the Association of School and College Leaders, believes the debate has become falsely polarised.

“We have to get the right placements for the student,” he explains. “For some young people that is mainstream school, for others that is some sort of specialist provision.”

Schools working together

He would like to see providers working together more closely. “There is an opportunity for schools and colleges to work with special schools so young people can spend some time in mainstream school and some time in specialist provision,” he says.

But Trobe admits most learning needs could be met in the mainstream sector, if only more funding was provided for support.

Despite this, he thinks there is a middle ground. “It is important to include young people in the system,” he says. “But you shouldn’t say: ‘you’re included, full stop’ or ‘you’re in a special school, that’s it’ – there needs to be flexibility. Young people’s needs are always changing.”



  • Labour is set to continue its policy of encouraging inclusion. The party plans to train more specialist autism and dyslexia teachers to work in mainstream schools but also wants to increase the supply of teachers trained to work in special schools
  • The Conservatives want to “end the bias towards the inclusion of children with SEN in mainstream schools”. A party spokesman explains: “At the moment, many parents who want to send their children to special schools find there aren’t enough places for their child”
  • The Liberal Democrats plan to end Labour’s aim in its 2004 SEN Strategy that “the proportion of children educated in special schools should fall over time”. They would encourage the co-location of special schools alongside mainstream schools.