I’ve recently had the opportunity to join a discussion hosted by The Mile End Institute, in collaboration with The Disability Policy Centre. This was on the topic of the journey towards an inclusive education system; something about which I am really passionate.
The first point made was that inclusive education should be a right, not a struggle. For too long, children with a disability have been marginalised. The enormity is reflected in the fact that £253 million has been spent on taking the parents of disabled children to tribunals. That equates to around £240 million of ‘lost’ money - as 95% of the time, parents have won their case. This really is beyond astonishing. And that was before there was a £2.1 billion shortfall in SEND provision. Parents should not have to fight to get access to the education their children need and deserve.
Whilst all schools want to persuade families to send their children there, disabled
children will very often be excluded from this discussion. This is because some mainstream schools can be concerned about the impact on their ratings, which further disables people who would already feel marginalised.
It is a point well worth making, that if disabled children can’t learn the way mainstream teachers teach, they need to be teaching the way disabled children learn. This would benefit all children because non-disabled children would be able to diversify their own learning styles. They would also be able to more effectively collaborate with disabled children via building empathy. The importance here is very much about non-disabled people being conscious of the lived experience of those with a disability. They may never be able to truly understand due to not having a disability, but I welcome an attitude of curiosity. This would help disabled people feel acknowledged and non-disabled people would become a lot more active in helping disabled people pursue the opportunities they would like. From a young age inclusivity becomes the norm.
Support for children and families needs to be simplified. What has happened over the past few years, is the support framework for children and families has been heavily fragmented, and nobody knows where the access points to support are. I agree with everyone who spoke at this event; there needs to be a simplified approach so families don’t have to spend their whole life fighting for support and when they do get it, they need to rely on the support being continuous, not impacted by funding (or lack of). Preventing crises can be so much more economical than funding crisis solutions. This is why there needs to be a much simpler system where every child’s support needs are catered to, and their parents can live with the peace of mind that their child is able to thrive in education and beyond.
My own personal experience in later education highlights another key issue within the system. Having trained professionals who can spot potential neurodivergent conditions is paramount if young people are to be given the support they need at a time when it can make the most impact on them, their families and their future opportunities. When I was 16, and just at the start of the academic year in which I was preparing to sit my GCSE exams, I found I was struggling with various things. I did my own research and the term “Dyspraxia” came up, alongside articles about Autism. Consequently, I wrote down a list of all the things which I felt applied to me, and I took this to the school nurse. Unfortunately, she was in no position to be able to assess for neurodiversity and diagnose, so this is clearly an area for development. There are so many people within the education system who have struggled and will continue to struggle due to not being able to pursue an early diagnosis and a school nurse would be the perfect individual to do this. Perhaps schools should even have a registered educational psychologist who can get involved from the onset. The ramifications of this is that families end up having to pay hundreds if not thousands for a diagnosis of a neurodivergent condition later down the line. For those who can’t afford to do this, they may never get a diagnosis or access to the support they need.
We have work to do to enhance our education system- this is clear. But we must commit to what we sign up to! No more empty promises! It is imperative that mainstream educational settings are safe places for all. The rise in number of disabled children going to traditional settings will keep on rising until they feel fully accepted and included within a mainstream school.
Here, I put forward some suggestions for improving access to education for all. There is so much talent within the disabled population and improved inclusion within the education system will benefit everyone. And this doesn’t stop within the classroom. There needs to be more representation outside of the classroom. I would love there to be more disabled teachers, head teachers, and within OFSTED. So that we can find a way to measure the quality of education without such a focus on league tables. It shouldn’t be about measuring schools in this way. There should be a collective effort to make opportunities come to life for everyone. Removing the barriers to access for disabled people in education will then create a positive upturn in meaningful employment later on, as well as mental health and self-esteem being helped massively as well.