Emma Lewell-Buck 17smallEmma was invited to speak at UCL’s new Centre for Education when it opened its doors for the first time on Thursday. The centre has been set up to develop and implement evidence-informed inclusive practice in education.

The team are committed to supporting inclusion through their Special Educational Needs (SEN) accredited programmes, online modules on high quality teaching, and direct work in partnership with schools, colleges and other providers.

Emma was delighted for the opportunity to set out Labour’s vision for all children to have an  inclusive education that allows them to reach their true potential regardless of background or whether they have a special educational need or disability.

Labour believes that the school system needs to more flexible to enable all children to attend mainstream education if they wish and that schools need to focus on standards not structures so they can adapt to provide for every child’s needs.

The importance of inclusion is widely recognised by practitioners and policy makers globally but the Government’s Schools that work for everyone” Green Paper did not make one single mention of children with special educational needs or disabilities.

Instead of receiving an inclusive education, children with special needs are grossly over-represented in exclusion figures.

The statistics for the 2014–15 academic year show that pupils with identified SEN accounted for just over half of all permanent exclusions and fixed-period exclusions. Pupils with SEN support had the highest permanent exclusion rate and were more than seven times likely to receive a permanent exclusion than pupils with no SEN. Pupils with an education, health and care (EHC) plan or with a statement of SEN had the highest fixed-period exclusion rate and were almost seven times more likely to receive a fixed-period exclusion than pupils with no SEN.

Emma Said “All children have the right to a good education, equal life chances and opportunities for the future. These rights should be for all – yet time and time again we hear that children with a learning disability are not getting the support they need at school.  Schools are really struggling to pay for basic resources across the board and are already having to withdraw support for pupils with special needs. With more savage cuts on the way, the Government has ensured educational outcomes for all children are at risk.”

You can read Emma’s speech below:

Evening everyone,

 It is really great to be here at the launch of your Centre for Inclusive Education. Because Inclusivity, not exclusivity is Labour’s educational vision for all children.  We believe that every child should be able to reach their true potential, regardless of whether they have a special educational need or a disability. 

 I am fed up of hearing that it is our children who are the problem, they are the ones who need to be dealt with, who need to be segregated, who need to move schools, who aren’t performing as well as they should ..

 This is SO WRONG –  it is the system at fault not the children…

 We need a more flexible system that focuses on standards not structures.  

One that enables all children to attend mainstream education, one where children aren’t unnecessarily segregated from their peers. 

 This was a view supported by Ofsted, who in the past reported that well-resourced mainstream schools were best placed for improving the learning environment for both disabled and non-disabled learners alike.

 Yet the current Government are obsessed with structural change, increasing selection and Grammars, instead of focusing on the absolute crisis in our Schools.  Teacher recruitment and retention, bulging class sizes, the removal of specialist SEN services, lack of basic resources, to name but a few that local teachers have spoken to me about.  I recently saw a letter from one primary School asking parents if they could contribute paper, pens, glue and other everyday items to their local primary school and a secondary school in my constituency has written to parents just this week to ask for a ten pound per month donation to keep things afloat.  Heads and teachers I have spoken to have said despite trying to hang on, and hang on well they have since 2010, it is now reached a point where four day school weeks might be on the cards.

 The Government’s response to this crisis is to try and introduce a new funding formula for Schools.  A new formula that the Education Policy Institute have said is likely to see every single School in England face funding cuts in the next three years.

 The big worry here for the children who have special educational needs or disabilities is that when cuts come you can guarantee they are always hit the hardest.  In the Government’s own “Schools that work for everyone” Green Paper last year there was not one single mention of children with special educational needs or disabilities.  How can we expect a truly inclusive education system when those responsible in Government forget about or worse still don’t care about the education of children with special needs and disabilities?

 Some of you may have had the pleasure of working with my brilliant colleague Sharon Hodgson on our SEN review, the findings from this review won’t be a surprise to any of you in this room, far too many children with special educational needs are still slipping through the net,– the figures for the numbers of SEN children facing fixed, permanent or even ‘illegal’ exclusions remain totally disproportionate compared to their peers, and the rushed reforms introduced in the Children and Families Act have created a post code lottery of variable provision where many children are continuing to be let down.

 Building on Sharon’s review I am hoping that many of you here today will contribute to our policy formation and respond to our current consultation document on early years, education and skills, it is open until the end of May and can be accessed on the internet.

 Our overall approach for children and families is built on the principle and solid foundation that from birth onwards every child has the best start in life, it is a holistic vision where the beginning of a child’s life and those formative years are the most crucial, because if we let down children at these early junctures then we are setting them up to fail or play catch up for the rest of their lives,

 the loss of Sure Start,

the failure on free childcare,

the impending nursery closures,

the removal of early years help and family support,

the cuts to School budgets,

the cuts to Further Education

the uncertainty over our Universities in the wake of Brexit

 the decimation of the social work sector,

punitive welfare policies,

austerity measures

are impacting everywhere, and nowhere more starkly than in the children and families arena.

 When 90% of Directors of Children’s Social Services are saying they find it increasingly difficult to provide children ‘in need’, that is those with disabilities, families in crisis and those at risk of abuse and neglect, with the support they require, it is time for the Government to change tac and work with the professionals, people like you to find a solution. Instead the Government’s most recent response was to try and embark on a massive programme of deregulation that would have seen local authorities being able to dispense with decade’s worth of legislation that protected all of our children’s rights, I am pleased to say that we were able to stop them this time.

 However it remains that the Department for Education have held meetings with private organisations who have zero knowledge of the children’s sector, these organisations have said they are prepared to play the long game in waiting until the Government have, in effect, deregulated to make it attractive for them, so they can make a profit 

 This is a dangerous direction of travel and one that, if it ever comes to fruition will have negative outcomes on children with SEND.

 I want you to know that I am watching very closely and will continue to robustly challenge any erosion of the legislation that gives protection and rights to our children.

 Now being totally conscious that I am all that’s between you and wine I am going to end by saying thank you for listening and I do hope that we can work together to get the best for our children and build a truly inclusive educational system.

 

 

 

 

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