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July 2011



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For 40 years, ‘inclusion’ has been the buzzword for special-needs education. Now radical reforms will mean fewer disabled children in mainstream schools. Is this what families want? Sarah Cassidy reports


Thursday, 30 June 2011


Ten-year-old Olivia Locke has not been to school for two years. When she did attend classes, she became so anxious that she felt physically sick – complaining of headaches, stomach- and leg-pains – and then refused to go back.


By the time her parents removed her at the age of eight, Olivia had refused to attend a nursery, three state primaries and one private school.


Olivia has Aspergers syndrome – a form of autism that causes difficulty in processing and understanding language – but also a generalised anxiety disorder, a combination that, her parents argue, makes attending mainstream school impossible.


Her mother, Kay Locke, 45, says: “We are being told by our local authority that her needs can be met in a normal mainstream secondary school. But all the reports we have had say she needs specialist provision. My sadness is that, as parents, we felt very much labelled as being inadequate. They said: ‘Just bring her into school and it will all be fine’, but we felt they just didn’t understand the situation. Unfortunately, there is a real culture of blame and it quickly turns into ‘you and them’.” The family – which is from Stockport – is now taking its local authority to a tribunal in an attempt to get Olivia a place at a specialist unit, but the process has caused a huge amount of stress and anguish for everyone.


It is families such as the Lockes that the Coalition Government hopes to help with its radical shake-up of provision for children with special needs or a disability. The consultation on its Green Paper closes today. The document boasts that the proposals will mean the biggest reform in the education and health support for children with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities in 40 years. This is a package of reforms that has been influenced heavily by the Prime Minister’s own personal views and experiences.


David Cameron, whose late son Ivan was severely disabled, personally drafted the Conservative manifesto pledge to end the “bias towards the inclusion” of children with special needs in mainstream schools. In a wide-ranging Green Paper published in March, Children’s Minister, Sarah Teather, unveiled proposals that also promised to remove this “bias” from the system, as well as reforming everything from statementing to teacher training and giving new rights to – and choices for – parents.


Around two million children and young people have been identified as having a special educational need or disability. The aim of the Green Paper – called Support and Aspiration – was to respond to the frustrations of these young people, their families and the professionals who work with them, who have complained that the system is bureaucratic, bewildering and adversarial, and that there is limited choice about the best schools and care.


According to the Council for Disabled Children, on average a disabled child experiences 32 assessments as they grow up, which ministers describe as being “unacceptable” and “inefficient”.


The most radical proposal would see the statement – the foundation of the SEN system for more than 30 years – scrapped and replaced with a “combined education, health and care plan”, which would last until the age of 25. Ministers also hope to speed up the process by reducing the time limit for statutory assessments.


The “school action” and “school action plus” categories for children with SEN – but without a statement – will also be axed.


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