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New law may hit private schools

INDEPENDENT schools' admissions policies could be challenged by a state-sector tribunal if parents feel their disabled children have been discriminated against.

But the rights of state and private schools to select all or some pupils by academic ability or musical or sporting aptitude will be unaffected by proposals to extend disability rights into education.

A new Bill, due later this year, will extend anti-discrimination legislation to cover education, including maintained and independent schools, nurseries, voluntary education providers, youth groups, and the post-16 sector.

A consultation document on the Bill, published this week, says that all schools and education authorities will have a new duty to plan to increase inclusion systematically, and not to discriminate against disabled pupils. If pupils or their parents feel they have been unfairly treated, whether by a state or independent school, they will be able to take their cases to the special educational needs tribunal.

The Disability Rights Task Force has calculated that the new duties - including improving curriculum materials and access to buildings - will cost state schools an extra pound;2million a year, and the independent sector another pound;500,000. The Government has already earmarked pound;100m to improve accessibility.

Education junior minister Jacqui Smith, launching the consultation at the annual conference of the National Association for Special Educational Needs, said: "I don't underestimate the challenges schools will face to develop their practice to become more inclusive. But we are determined to enable more parents to feel confident that their child's needs can and will be met in mainstream schools."

The Bill includes a new presumption that children will be educated in mainstream schools unless their parents prefer a special school or cannot find appropriate provision in mainstream schools. However, schools will still be able to take into account the costs of integrating SEN and disabled pupils, and the effect on other children's education - caveats some disability groups want removed from the final Bill.

FE Focus, III

Consultation closes on April 28. Copies of proposals can be obtained from and www. Tel: 0207 925 5528. Braille, audio and large-print versions are available.

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