A transformation or an opportunity lost?

A discussion paper by

Nick Peacey

Visiting Research Associate, UCL Institute of Education,

University of London

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The Coalition government began implementation of the Children and Families Act 2014 (‘the Act’: TSO, 2014) and the Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice 2014 (‘the Code’: DfE/DoH, 2014) in September 2014. Ministers described these changes as ‘a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ for those with special educational needs and disability (SEND).

Since then, concerns about the implementation process and the extent to which the changes are improving practice have led to disquiet among disabled people and the parents and carers of those with SEND.

But there are likely to be longer-term and more far-reaching consequences of the changes. To explore this, we need to set the reforms within broad national and international perspectives on principle and practice. The paper argues that while the reforms enhance aspects of the previous English SEND framework, they:

  • do not have adequate safeguards for introduction into an educational environment which is in many ways hostile to inclusion and equality
  • take insufficient account of recent international research evidence, such as the fast-developing knowledge of the infant brain, which is already challenging our SEND resource priorities
  • fall short of the highest international standards on difference and disability, particularly those set out in the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The UK is a signatory to both Conventions.

There are already disturbing signs that the Coalition policies are affecting outcomes for children and young people with SEND, particularly those who come from poor families. For example, Lupton et al (2015) found that in 2014 the GCSE performance of children with special educational needs on free school meals (FSM) dropped, in comparison with the 2013 results, by no less than 32.8 percentage points (from 49.4 per cent to 16.6 per cent).

In the light of such evidence the Conservative government should review the interaction of the 2014 legislation and regulation with the environment into which they are being introduced. The recommendations at the end of this paper can support this process. They are also intended to help all those who care about the rights of disabled people in education in England create new institutional alliances with politicians and policy makers of all parties in years to come.

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