Select Committee on Education and Skills Third Report

2  Clarification of inclusion policy

Defining inclusion

58. There is considerable confusion over the term inclusion with a wide range of meanings applied to the term. The word alone invokes a great deal of strong feeling and antagonism. Polar opposite views have been represented to the Committee: from fervent advocates of inclusion who regard it as a human rights issue that all children should be included in mainstream schools; to those who see inclusion policy as the root of all problems in SEN, such as a hesitance on the part of local authorities to issue statements and the closure of special schools that parents have fought hard to keep open.

59. There is a distinction between inclusion and integration which should also be clarified. Integration was the term first introduced in the 1978 Warnock Report. It was referring to the concept of integrating children with SEN into a common educational framework. The concept has since progressed to the inclusion of all children to reflect the idea that it is not for SEN children to be somehow fitted in or integrated into the mainstream but that education as a whole should be fully inclusive of all children.

60. There is nothing in the word inclusion itself to cause offence but it has become associated with blanket policies of forced inclusion or exclusion from particular schools or access to resources. Associations with such needs-blind policies have raised passionate opposition. As John Hayward, Focus Learning, explained to the Committee:

61. Miriam Rosen, Director of Education at Ofsted, described Ofsted's view as being that:

    "the debate over provision has for too long focused on an unhelpful interpretation of inclusion as a place (that is, special or mainstream) rather than on what the pupils achieve[...]"[63]

62. When described under a more measured and child-focused definition, it is difficult to take issue with the principle of inclusion. When it is defined as being about creating schools with an inclusive approach or ethos so that all children in the school are actively involved, playing a full and positive role in the classroom and with their peers, few would argue against such a principle or aim. Indeed, the Government's SEN Strategy Removing Barriers to Achievement describes "schools effectively responding to a wide range of needs in the classroom" (p50) and "all teachers having the skills and confidence—and access to specialist advice where necessary—to help children with SEN to reach their potential." (p50).

63. The SEN Strategy does clarify the definition it is applying to the term inclusion at one stage—using an interpretation that would have almost unanimous support. It says "inclusion is about much more than the type of school that children attend: it is about the quality of their experience; how they are helped to learn, achieve, and participate fully in the life of the school." (p 25). This explanation of inclusion is, however, not sufficient to clarify the Government's position in such a confused area of policy—particularly when the SEN Strategy still includes references to the Government's "inclusion agenda" (p34) and gives guidance to local authorities to reduce the proportion of children being educated in special schools over time (p37).

64. The Government's changing definition of inclusion is causing confusion. If it is going to continue to use this term in key policy documents such as the SEN Strategy, the Government should work harder to define exactly what it means by inclusion. This Committee supports the principle of educators pursuing an ethos that fully includes all children—including those with SEN and disabilities—in the setting or settings that best meets their needs and helps them achieve their potential, preferably a good school within their local community.

Clarifying the Government's position on inclusion

A confused message

65. It is widely presumed that the Government has a policy of inclusion or an inclusion agenda. Indeed, Baroness Warnock in her recent article—which many described as a u-turn in her position on inclusion —concluded that "possibly the most disastrous legacy of the 1978 report, was the concept of inclusion." She argued in the article that inclusion could be taken "too far" and that this was resulting in the closure of special schools to the detriment of children with SEN. [64]

66. The Government has, in written and oral evidence to this Committee, repeatedly stated that "it is not Government policy to close special schools"[65] and that "Government plays no role in relation to local authority[66] [...] decisions to close schools."[67]

The Government's position on inclusion

67. The widely held presumption that the Government has a policy of inclusion arises from both statutory and non-statutory guidance it has published. As put in the 2004 SEN Strategy Removing Barriers to Achievement:[68]

"The 1997 Green Paper Excellence For All Children Meeting Special Educational Needs, signalled our commitment to the principle of inclusion and the need to rethink the role of special schools within this context. The SEN And Disability Act (SENDA) 2001 delivered a stronger right to mainstream education, making it clear that where parents want a mainstream place for their child, everything possible should be done to provide it." (p25)

68. The 2004 SEN Strategy Removing Barriers to Achievement claimed to set out "the Government's vision for the education of children with SEN and disability" and "provide clear national leadership".[69] The 2004 SEN Strategy refers to the Governments existing "inclusion agenda" (p34). It talks about "developing inclusive practice" (p31) and launching a new "inclusion development programme" (p27 and 31).

69. Furthermore, in terms of guidance given to local authorities, the SEN Strategy specifically says that local authorities "should take account of the following considerations:

  • The proportion of children educated in special schools should fall over time (emphasis added) as mainstream schools grow in their skills and capacity to meet a wider range of needs;
  • A small number of children have such severe and complex needs that they will continue to require special provision; and
  • Children with less significant needs[...] should be able to have their needs met in a mainstream environment." (p37)

70. In clarifying the role of special schools, the SEN Strategy says that "successful special schools have an important contribution to make in preparing mainstream schools to support their inclusion." (p38). With regard to statements, the SEN Strategy repeatedly refers to the desired goal for local authorities to "reduce reliance on statements" (p18-19).

71. The Strategy also clearly state that "reorganisations need to be carefully planned, involving active consultation with parents" and that it is "critical to ensure that high quality provision is available locally before (original emphasis) special school places are reduced." (p38) Nevertheless, there is an unambiguous presumption that special school places will reduce and that the proportion of children educated in special schools should "fall over time".

72. Based on statutory and non-statutory guidance, it is reasonable for those involved in SEN to assume that the Government holds a policy of inclusion from which it has given guidance to local authorities to reduce both the proportion of pupils in special schools and to reduce reliance on statements.

73. The Government has been firm and consistent in stating its position on inclusion for this inquiry both in written and oral evidence. It has stated that it does not hold a policy of inclusion that is resulting in the closure of special schools. This is not sufficient. At the very least there is considerable confusion over the Government's position on inclusion and they must take responsibility for this lack of clear strategic direction and for the consequences of this.


74. The vision for SEN outlined in Government publications up to and including the 2004 SEN Strategy was clearly centred on a "commitment to the principle of inclusion." (p25). In its written memorandum to this inquiry, however, the DfES state that the future strategy for SEN is focused on three goals of "personalisation, inclusion, and partnership".[70] When asked about the Government's vision for SEN, the Minister replied that the sole emphasis was around "personalisation",[71] and the DfES officials replied that future strategic direction was based on the "third way" or "a flexible continuum of provision".[72]

75. Primarily, written and oral evidence given to this inquiry by the DfES, along with oral evidence from the Minister, has caused confusion. But it also indicates a significant back-tracking on the Government's part in terms of its commitment to inclusion (in the narrow sense of placement). The Government has repeatedly told this Committee that it does not hold a policy of inclusion that is resulting in the closure of special schools:

  • "it is not Government policy to close special schools";[73]
  • "the Government plays no role in relation to local authority[...] decisions to close schools";[74]
  • "The Government has made clear that special schools have an important continuing role to play within the overall pattern of provision.";[75] and
  • "(Government) policy is to promote a continuum of provision to meet a wide range of SEN so that individual children's needs may be appropriately met in a range of settings."[76]

76. In a recent article Richard Rieser, director of the charity Disability Equality in Education, was said to be "aghast at the government's change in tone: 'up until 2001 the government was clear that all children with disabilities should be included. That movement towards inclusion has stopped.'"[77]

77. The most radical u-turn was demonstrated by Lord Adonis in his evidence to the Committee. The Minister described the Government as being "content" if, as a result of Local Authority decisions, the current "roughly static position in respect of special schools"[78] continues.

78. Lord Adonis specifically said that the Government:

    "do not have a view about a set proportion of pupils who should be in special schools."[79]

79. This directly contradicts the stated aim in the 2004 SEN Strategy that "the proportion of children educated in special schools should fall over time".[80] The Minister's words demonstrate a significant change in policy direction.

80. Evidence suggests that this change in policy has not just occurred with the Government. Many of the major disability charities have "sharpened their policy" (Down's Syndrome Association) on inclusion and now recognise the importance of "specialist units". Many disability campaigners such as the National Autistic Society and Mencap until recently were strong supporters of a strict line on inclusion policy but are now taking a more pragmatic approach. Lesley Campbell, national children's officer for Mencap said in a recent article that "a very large group of children are being successfully included but we have to be realistic. Some are not included well and they end up as refugees from the mainstream, in special schools, at secondary level."[81] In its memorandum, Mencap says that it "supports the concept of inclusive education, which means that every child should have access to education appropriate to their needs and potential."[82]

81. The National Autistic Society believes that "the autistic spectrum includes children with severe learning disabilities with little or no verbal communication, through to those with an average or high IQ, including those with Asperger's syndrome. This wide spectrum of needs requires a wide spectrum of educational provision including mainstream schools, special schools, specialist units attached to mainstream schools and residential provision."[83]


82. Ms Althea Efunshile, Director, Safeguarding Children Group, DfES, along with the written DfES memoranda, referred to Ministers considering a "third way":

83. Mr Ian Coates, Divisional Manager, Special Educational Needs and Disability, DfES, confirmed that:

    "what we are looking for, the phrase that we are tending to use now[...] rather than the 'third way' is a 'flexible continuum of provision'."[85]

84. This "third way" was also mentioned in the DfES memorandum.[86] Taken alongside the Ministers comments, this is very telling. This would suggest that the Government are currently considering a new direction on SEN policy. This would explain why, when asked if the Government held a policy of inclusion that was resulting in the closure of special schools, they were able to say "no" despite the existing publication of such a stated aim in the SEN Strategy. These answers present a confused message, but one that signals a move away from the Government's original position in 1997.

85. The most generous reading of the evidence is that the Government is moving forward towards seeking a "flexible continuum of provision" being available in all local authorities to meet the needs of all children, including those with SEN, but this is not the basis for the approach outlined in SENDA 2001, the SEN Code of Practice 2001, or the 2004 SEN Strategy. This should be put right.

86. What is urgently needed is for the Government to clarify its position on SEN—specifically on inclusion—and to provide national strategic direction for the future. The Government needs to provide a clear over-arching strategy for SEN and disability policy. It needs to provide a vision for the future that everyone involved in SEN can purposefully work towards.

87. The Government has repeatedly stated it is not going to undertake a fundamental review of SEN policy. Seeking change through evolution not revolution is one thing, but changing a key policy focus and hoping to tie it back in to a particular reading of the existing SEN Strategy is not acceptable. The Government should be up-front about its change of direction on SEN policy and the inclusion agenda, if this is indeed the case, and should reflect this in updated statutory and non-statutory guidance to the sector.

62   Q241 Back

63   Q660 Back

64   Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain, Baroness Warnock, Special educational needs: a new look, 2005. No. 11 in a series of policy discussions. Back

65   SEN 178 paragraph 132 Back

66   Every reference to "Local Education Authority" or "LEA" or "LA" in written or oral evidence has been changed to "local authority" in the main body of the report for the purpose of clarity. Back

67   SEN 178 paragraph 56 Back

68   DfES Removing Barriers to Achievement, 2004 SEN Strategy Back

69   DfES Removing Barriers to Achievement, 2004 SEN Strategy (page 6) Back

70   SEN 178, section 1  Back

71   Q869 Back

72   Q77 Back

73   SEN 178, paragraph 132 Back

74   SEN 178, paragraph 56 Back

75   SEN 178, paragraph 134 Back

76   SEN 178, paragraph 132 Back

77,,5387032-110908,00.html  Back

78   Q877 Back

79   Q895 Back

80   DfES Removing Barriers to Achievement, 2004 SEN Strategy (page 37) Back

81,,5387032-110908,00.html  Back

82   SEN 47 Back

83   SEN 128 Back

84   Q 62 Back

85   Q77 Back

86   SEN 178, paragraph 96 Back

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