In January, we wrote to Wiltshire Council about their intention to establish an ASC resource base at a school in Salisbury.
We wanted to know more about how Councils consult and plan for inclusion in practice. It is doubtless true that many local authorities see resource bases as a cost effective method of securing 'inclusion' in the mainstream so we were very keen to see what evidence the Council had to support its decision and how it was involving parents and children with autism in its planning. Obviously, if inclusion is to have any meaning beyond the mere physical presence of disabled pupils in mainstream schools, it requires careful and widespread consultation and engagement. We think this is certainly required by the Public Sector Equality Duty set out at s.149 of the Equality Act.
You can read our letter here.
The response was very disappointing. The Council said the proposal was “a central part of the drive to develop a more inclusive education for pupils with SEN” but it provided no detailed information to support its plans. We were concerned as the genuine inclusion of pupils with ASC is a highly complex matter requiring advice, research and in-depth discussion with parents and children. See the Council's response here.
After pursuing several requests for further information under the Freedom of Information Act, we were very disappointed to note that the Council's final response seems to confirm:
(i) Wiltshire Council has undertaken no consultation with any group or person with autism about the planning for this particular base.
(ii) Wiltshire Council has no records of its decision-making. This means it has no records supporting the choice of school for this base and it has obtained no written advice from any professional with expertise in autism to assist with its planning to support children's inclusion.
(iii) Wiltshire Council can provide no detail about the nature of the proposed base e.g. it can provide no detail of the numbers of chilldren, the complexitiy of their disabilities, the planned training of staff in the mainstream, the therapies on offer etc.
We think children deserve better than this haphazard planning. As we have noted, inclusion means far more than simply being physically present at a school and it is unacceptable that those with expertise in autism, including parents and children, have not been consulted, or that if they have, no records have been made of their advice.
So, we wrote to all elected members to raise these issues as it is important that democratic representatives are able to excercise democractic accountability. You can read our letter here.
We are extremely pleased to confirm that Councillor Richard Gamble, Wiltshire Council's Portfolio Holder for Education, Skills and Youth, immediately offered to meet us to discuss these matters further.
Our meeting with Mr Gamble will take place tomorrow and we will report on its outcome. We intend to raise all the points above and to ask how the Council can better include parents and children in their planning. Such inclusion should not, of course, be limited to a quick reference to the local Parent Carer Forum but it should be genuine and attempt to access the widest range of voices.
The ERA aims to act openly in all its activities so we will report back on the meeting as soon as we can.