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Benn backs calls for inclusion

Tony Benn has joined disability groups, teachers and parents in a campaign to shore up support for the education of pupils with special needs in mainstream schools.

The former Labour MP has signed a petition organised by Disability Equality in Education expressing concern at "the huge amount of media time given to the distorted view of inclusive education".

Mr Benn said: "It is a difficult one ... but I do think the division of children is not a good idea. Where possible children should be educated together."

The move comes as Baroness Warnock, the architect of inclusion, formally launched a pamphlet calling for a revolution to reverse the damage caused by educating pupils with acute needs in mainstream schools.

Her call has been backed by the Conservatives, who have demanded a halt to special school closures, as well as parents and teachers concerned that mainstream schools cannot cope with pupils with acute needs.

But campaigners, including the Down's Syndrome Association, the Children's Society and Paradigm, a charity for children with learning difficulties, have accused critics of supporting discrimination against disabled people.

They admit some disabled pupils have become "refugees" in some mainstream schools but believe poor integration is caused by a lack of teacher training, funding and discrimination.

Chris Osbourne, the Children's Society policy adviser, said: "While it is helpful to draw attention to the challenges posed by the inclusion agenda, Baroness Warnock is wrong to think the answer lies in creating more special schools.

"This suggestion fails to recognise the important role of inclusion in educating the whole community about impairment and disability."

But parent Jonathan Meth, whose son suffers from an autistic spectrum disorder, said that while he agreed with 90 per cent of the campaign, "For me, the human right should be the right of choice. Since when does a one-size-fits-all argument advance disability equality?"

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