SCHOOLS could be prosecuted by a new disability rights watchdog for excluding special needs and disabled pupils.
Bert Massie CBE, chairman of the new Disability Rights Commission, says the organisation will try to "persuade and educate" but would use its legal powers to protect disabled youngsters, if necessary. The DRC will have similar powers to the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission, to promote disabled people's rights.
It will carry on the work of the Disability Rights Taskforce, a government-appointed advisory body, which produced a major report before Chritmas calling for anti-discrimination legislation to be extended to cover schools, colleges and universities. Ministers have pledged to legislate on the issue this year.
Mr Massie added that removing the social barriers to inclusion, such as some teachers' fear of having disabled children in their class, will be as important as tackling the physical barriers, such as the lack of ramps, to accessing mainstream schools.
However, he said that schools often feel caught between conflicting government pressures of improving examination performance and increasing inclusion.