Despite national policy, the latest figures show local education authorities differ sharply in where they place pupils with disabilities. Biddy Passmore reports
A disabled pupil in Manchester is more than seven times as likely to be placed in a special school as a pupil in the London borough of Newham, figures for 2001 reveal.
Disturbing variations in local authority practice persist despite long-standing national policy to integrate where possible, reports Brahm Norwich of Exeter University. Two in five local education authorities have actually increased their share of disabled pupils in special schools since 1997, when Labour came to power.
"Is it fair to pupils and their families and others that in 2001 a disabled pupil in Lambeth was more than six times as likely to be segregated in a special school than a pupil in Newham, just 10 miles away?" asks Professor Norwich.
Overall, the statistics for England show a continuation in the trend of the past 20 years towards educating disabled children in mainstream schools. Actual numbers of five to 15-year-olds in special schools fell from 88,800 to 86,950 between 1997 and 2001, despite a rise in the total school population.
But the trend towards integration slowed down in the 1990s and has not resumed its former pace, despite Labour's commitment to greater inclusion.
Between 1997 and 2001, 41 out of 98 local education authorities increased their segregation of disabled pupils (figures for the remainder could not be compared because of local government reorganisation). Hammersmith and Fulham, Kingston-upon-Thames and the city of Manchester all showed three significant annual rises in the percentage of their disabled pupils in special schools. LEAs showing three significant annual decreases were Bristol, Hackney and Wandsworth.
Overall, the percentage of five to 15-year-old pupils in special schools across England's 149 LEAs fell from 1.39 per cent in 1997 to 1.32 per cent in 2001.
The figures do not include pupils segregated by being excluded for disciplinary reasons or those in pupil-referral units.
"LEA inclusion trends in England 1997-2001", pound;10, by Brahm Norwich, from the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education in Exeter, tel: 0117 344 4007 or fax 4005.