Inclusion is still a long way off

1st June 2007 at 01:00

Presumably, the plight of Aisha Booth, reported on page 2, is the result of what policy wonks might call the "law of unintended consequences", rather than the outcome of ruthless policy-making.

Despite having been assessed as having a mental age of 4, Aisha, who has Down's syndrome, must be considered for placement on a course which is aimed at training people for work.

Of course, we do not suspect that ministers at the Department for Education and Skills actually believe that the anxiety being suffered by Aisha and her parents is a fair price to pay for the drive towards training for employment. Far from it, and work has been going on behind the scenes to make sense of funding for adults with learning difficulties - an issue which clearly crosses the boundaries between government departments.

Looking out for people like Aisha involves collaboration between the various ministers responsible for education, health and social services.

In an age where the word "inclusion" is used so liberally by education policy-makers, it is people like Aisha who can tell us whether we really have achieved the kind of society to which such language aspires. From where she is sitting, such a society is an inviting prospect - but a long way off.

We have said before that catering for the needs of such people, particularly keeping their minds active through education, is a moral duty which falls outside the wider policy objectives of post-16 education.

The lines between care, education and health provision become blurred and difficult to define when students have extreme physical or mental problems.

Ministers are making progress on resolving this issue. Of course, the real question is not which departments are providing the funding but whether it is enough.

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