Dr Deborah Robinson, Acting Director of the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) at the University of Derby discusses current special education needs statistics and if there has been a reverse in commitment to mainstream education for all.
Britain signed the Salamanca Statement along with 300 other signatories, 23 years ago which was a dynamic framework for action to support inclusive education for children with learning difficulties and disabilities. The guiding principle of the framework was that all children should be included in the educational arrangements made for the majority. From this emerged our own national commitment to placing children with learning difficulties and disabilities in mainstream schools. This is based on the rational assumption that if you want children with disabilities to lead ordinary lives, enjoying every day privileges such as employment and a social life, you can best prepare for this through educating them in mainstream schools.
Statistics from the Department for Education (DfE) show there are 1,039 special schools in England. In 2010, 38% of pupils with more complex intellectual or physical disabilities were attending special schools. In 2016, this had increased to 42%. Local authorities have cited higher survival rates for premature birth as a key reason for the increase but this has not been borne out by analyses carried out on behalf of the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education.
Dr Deborah Robinson
What it actually means is that our school system is becoming more segregated. Government policies are making mainstream schools into test factories where there is less for diversity and, relatedly, less space for teachers to be creative and responsive to individual needs. In the end, this outcome is not beneficial to students.
This continuing rise in the number of children in special schools represents a reversal in our commitment to mainstream education for all. It is mirrored by the Government’s plans to increase the number of grammar schools in the country. In all this represents a departure from the principles of the Salamanca Statement.
Most concerning is that parents are supposed to have a right to choose whether their child attends a special or mainstream school. If children with exceptional needs become increasingly absent from mainstream schools, these schools cannot develop the good practices that make them a viable choice for parents.