Monday, 8 December 2014

Unconference on inclusion in education: come and share your views!

We have been actively following the SEN reform process.

The passing of the Children and Families Act has felt like little more than a fight to stand still.  'SEN issues' have not been mainstreamed: instead, they continue to be sidelined as if they were a topic of interest for 'experts' affecting only a few 'special' children. There has been scant talk of equality and human rights. Instead, the talk is usually about 'support' and 'signposting' which can feel like a rather patronising pat on the head.

This kind of approach impacts heavily on our children and young people as it affects the perspectives on disability we encounter in society generally.

We, at the ERA, feel it is time to change the conversation.

We would like a genuine and frank discussion about SEN, disability and equality in our schools. This is a massive topic so there are many issues which could be discussed. For example, what is 'inclusive education'? Does inclusion differ from equality? How? Does this matter in practice? How do we ensure people are aware of their equality rights and that they are enforced? What is the role of special schools? Do resource bases work? What is the state of evidence about inclusion? What do our children and young people think? Do we know? How should we plan for, implement, and fund inclusive education? There are many, many more questions to ask on this topic but we think we need to start somewhere!

What do you think?

We are a small, completely unfunded, parent-led organisation. We are not a charity. We are not connected to any charity or organisation. We have no power to decide anything for anyone neither do we have any desire  to silence or exclude. We are trying to create a space to give a voice to our young people's experiences. So, we thought it might be a good idea to set up a meeting to try and kick-start a debate about SEN and equality but we certainly don't want this to be a one-off.

We would really like to involve all those involved in the SEN system who can speak of the realities of practice: kids, parents, people with disabilities (especially those who have recent school experiences), teachers, lawyers, academics and organisations working on the frontline.

In raising this, we are very conscious that there are many different and complex views about inclusion in education. Our aim is to try to pull people together with potentially very different experiences and views and to try and find common ground. Our priority remains those who experience the system.

The event

Irwin Mitchell have very kindly agreed to provide funding for an event in London. We have set the date of 3 February 2015 for the meeting.  They are as follows:

Date: Tuesday 3rd February 2015 at 10.30 to 5pm

Place:  The Arc Centre, 98B St Paul Street, London N1

Nearest tube:Angel (Northern line)

Nearest rail:Essex road

Buses: 38, 73,56, 76, 141, 271,341, 476 (get off at the Packington Street stop on Essex Road near to Islington Green)

Parking: Pay and Display on surrounding streets

You can book FREE tickets event on Eventbrite here.

Online preparation and attendance

We are committed to organising this as openly and inclusively as possible. It is absolutely essential that the voices and experiences of disabled people are heard so please contact us to get involved. We would like to hear from YOU as there is much left to be discussed. We welcome your suggestions, ideas, advice, involvement, offers of help etc.

We intend to set up a blog so people can record their own views and raise issues publicly for discussion. In this way they can still contribute if they are unable to attend (or if they would prefer to contribute in this way).

If there is anything else you think we should be doing to make this project work, please let us know.

Hardship travel fund

Irwin Mitchell has kindly agreed to offer £250 towards travel costs for those who would not otherwise be able to attend.

If you are unwaged, disabled or have would otherwise find it difficult to attend without financial assistance, please contact us now at and we will see if we can help. The funding is extremely limited so a contribution rather than full costs may be offered. Assistance will be offered on a first come, first served basis.


  1. What concerns me about inclusion is when people define it as meaning being in a mainstream school. In practice (and something I witnessed with my own children) whilst a child may be physically present it doesn't meant they're included. Far from it the inclusion in a MS setting can be torturous for some of our children which can lead to poor health and school refusal. It also implies that education other than being in a MS school is a form of exclusion which I'm not sure about because what do we mean by exclusion - exclusion from what? Education? Opportunities to mix with non-disabled pupils? Whilst I don't agree with disabled or SEN children being shut away from society I don't believe that a MS setting works for every child in which case we need to be more creative (and flexible) in how or whether we integrate non SEN and SEN children.

    I also have issues in labelling our SEN children 'special' - this marks them out from the start as does 'special schools', 'special educational needs' etc. For my son, he felt a bit mixed up about going to a special school; he disliked the 'specialness' and the 'disability' aspect of it but loved the ethos there and indeed it was the only place suitable for him. I can't see how MS could have ever worked; the large scale of such a school would have been a sensory and social nightmare as well as the added pressure from a curriculum he could not have kept up with. Even if there was a separate unit, I can't see how this would have worked unless he was able to dip in and out of MS classes which I doubt he would have managed. His school was like a much smaller version of a MS secondary in which he had freedom to move around between classes, play sports, go to lunch etc. I thought this was preferable to a unit in MS school. Also having peers with autism spectrum disorders meant he has formed friends who have similar interests to himself. I am doubtful that this would have happened in MS because of the bullying which he has previously experienced from the kids at that school.

    I do get fed up of listening to people commenting abut the need for pupils to socialise and particularly for SEN and non-SEN pupils to interact. I understand the need to educate society to become more tolerant of disability but we shouldn't put that principle ahead of the needs of individual SEN children. For example, some SEN children cannot (or don't want to) socialise and some may struggle with being physically near to other people. Its part of their disability and its about time we respected that difference rather than press them to be something they can never be. As a parent I hate the idea that my kids could be USED to educate non-SEN pupils about disability/difference particularly when my children are placed in a position that is deeply stressful/traumatic to them. I also dislike the idea that autistic kids learn social behaviour from being with non autistic kids and hence that is why they should be in a MS school. In my experience this is nonsense and shows little understanding of the depth of difficulty such children have with social communication.

    The other concern I have is the use of pupil referral units as a dumping ground for SEN kids who are struggling in MS. This has happened to both my children because the LA didn't know what to do with them when they became unwell and dropped out of school (due to lack of support). Whilst Im sure there are some good staff in these places (though personally I found there wasn't enough understanding of autism/aspergers) there is still an issue with how these places are perceived. Many people view PRUs as being for unmanageable or violent kids which is a stigma my children could well do without. Again this marks them out as being different.

    As for the equality act I know very little about it and I do believe that training in this would be beneficial for parents like me.

  2. Forget to add that I hope your roundtable discussion goes well though I do hope you get more families/carers/individuals to attend as well. For me personally, whilst inclusion/exclusion is an important concept to debate I think the questions of what is the purpose of education and what/how we teach our children is becoming equally more important. For me, I have given up on state education because I do not think it can deliver the quality of education I want for my aspergers daughter.

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  4. Sorry - I removed my post above because of the glaring amount of typos!

    Thanks for this! You raise some extremely important points, especially about respecting difference and not forcing kids to be something they're not.

    We are all parents of disabled children ourselves and agree that the attendance of parents/carers/individuals is crucial.

    I think the point you raise about the nature of education and teaching is also very important and should be very much part of the discussion.

    I hope you will take part in our discussion in some way. I can keep a record of your comments if you can't attend or you can email me.

    Or perhaps we can figure out a way of involving those who can't be present!

    Watch this space!

  5. Inclusion is not about the physical space a person occupies. You cannot place a child with social communication difficulties in amongst typically developing children and claim this is an adequate inclusive education.

  6. We agree and we think one of the key issues is getting to grips with what we mean by inclusion.