The good news in the Green Paper is that many thousands more children will be educated in mainstream schools with appropriate support. At long last we have an official document calling for a change in attitudes to bring about a fundamental shift in the education of a minority group.
The acknowledgement by the Secretary of State of the connection between education provision and the position of disabled people in society is unique in British government and to be welcomed. In his foreword, David Blunkett elevates the national discussion to an appropriate higher level and gives official recognition to the issue being on a human rights platform when he says: "Where all children are included as equal partners in the school community, the benefits are felt by all. That is why we are committed to comprehensive and enforceable civil rights for disabled people."
Possibly one of the most important sentences in the Green Paper is on page 45: "There is no reason why children with similar needs in different parts of the country should not have similar opportunities to attend mainstream schools. " But for this to come about, there has to be a change in Part 4 of the 1996 Education Act to remove the caveats that govern inclusive education.
There are many excellent suggestions in the Green Paper providing a positive agenda to work with, and it is heartening that the Government gives support to UNESCO's pro-inclusion Salamanca Statement of 1994, even though it fails to mention the pro-inclusion 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (to which it is a signatory) or the 1993 UN Standard Rules covering disabled people and education.
The bad news in the Green Paper is that alongside support for inclusive education, special schools are here to stay, chapter four describing a permanent role for a smaller number of special schools. Perhaps the consultation period may generate enough reaction to persuade the Government of the flaw in this proposal.
Statistics of more than a decade have shown a gradual reduction in segregation (see A Trend Towards Inclusion, CSIE, July 1997) and the Green Paper properly acknowledges progress with inclusive education. Indeed there are now examples of inclusion of children with all types and degrees of severity of disability or learning difficulty, and if it can happen in one town, then why not in another? Who is the Government planning to keep special schools for in perpetuity? And who is going to decide when the trend towards inclusion should halt? Mr Blunkett? The heads of special schools?
Since there is no legal duty on LEAs to have to run special schools (the law says they simply have to meet the educational needs of the children in their area) then it can be imagined that LEAs could move towards a position of having no special schools. The London borough of Newham has closed eight special schools in 12 years and by 1999 will decide what to do with the last one.
The Government should grasp the nettle and recommend the phasing out of all special schools over a reasonable period of time, say 10 years from the start of new legislation.
CSIE has published a report Inclusive Education: a framework for change, which reflects the growing international movement calling for inclusive schools for all children. The report offers guidance on strategic planning for individual schools and LEAs considering a reduction in segregation. #163;4.50 (inc p+p) from CSIE, 1 Redland Close, Elm Lane, Redland, Bristol BS6 6UE
Mark Vaughan is co-director of the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (CSIE)