Inclusive education campaigners have warned that the new coalition government looks set to reverse decades of progress towards the inclusion of disabled children in mainstream schools.
The Conservatives caused anger and alarm in their election manifesto when they demanded a “moratorium on the ideologically-driven closure of special schools”, and pledged to “end the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools”.
During the election campaign, the Liberal Democrats criticised the Tory stance, saying it was clear that “some parents are concerned that under the Tories we could lurch back to a policy of only having youngsters in special schools”.
The Liberal Democrat manifesto made no mention of the closure of special schools.
But the Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) is now pointing to a Liberal Democrat education policy paper, published last year, in which the party pledged to force local authorities to “provide access to suitable places in special schools for those who require this”.
And it said it would “end the presumption” in the Labour government’s 2004 special educational needs strategy that “the proportion of children educated in special schools should fall over time”.
Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s campaigns and policy co-ordinator, said: “We are not sure how a ‘big society’ and a ‘fair society’ are going to be created when we have both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats committed to removing the bias towards an inclusive education for disabled children.”
She added: “What they are saying is they are going to make it harder for parents and disabled children to access mainstream education.
“It is completely outrageous, particularly from the Liberal Democrats.”
She said such a policy risked 30 years of progress towards inclusion and could take the country “back to the dinosaurs”.
She added: “This is about disablism. We live in 2010 and they want to turn the clocks back. They want to encourage more disablism by segregation.
“Disabled children have less rights than any other group of children to access mainstream education, and what they are going to do is to make it harder.”
Peter De Oude, community involvement manager for Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People, said disabled people who attended meetings with parliamentary candidates before the election made it clear that “they wanted a society where disabled people were treated as equals”.
He said: “Part of that is to include disabled people in mainstream education, which disabled people say they want.
“If the coalition is reversing things that have been started in the last 10 years around mainstream education, our members will be concerned about that because they do not want to be segregated and put in ghettos.”
No-one from the Liberal Democrats was available to comment.