The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by RESCARE

  1.  Further to your Committee calling the Rt. Hon Mr Jonathan Shaw MP, Minister for Disabled People, to give oral evidence in respect of the above we wish to express our support for the Government's position in ratifying the UN Convention by the end of 2008 including it's reservation and interpretive declaration in respect of the Convention's Article 24: Education.

  2.  It's Department for Children, Schools and Families has indicated that there is a need to recognise that the general education system in the UK includes a range of provision, including mainstream and special schools which will require an interpretive declaration, and there will also need to be a reservation in respect of disabled children whose needs are best met through specialist provision which may be someway from their home.

  3.  Run by families for families we consider that the above reservation and interpretive declaration are essential in meeting the educational needs of children and young people with learning disabilities, autism and other complex needs, as an option for their parents. We fully support the statement 6 May 2008 re Article 24 Education by the then Minister for Disabled People Anne McGuire MP on behalf of the Government as above.

  4.  As a current relevant example we offer as evidence excerpts from our Response, as follows, to the closure of five special schools by the South Tyneside Authority which has raised serious concerns and opposition amongst the parents and relatives involved, not only for their own children but for those that the future will surely bring.

  5.  Rescare Response to the proposed closure of five special schools by the South Tyneside local authority namely Epinay, Bamburgh, Margaret Sutton, Oakleigh Gardens and Greenfields.

  Rescare supports choice in Education including properly resourced mainstream, special day and residential schools. Run by families for families and representing through 40 affiliated organisations plus individual and family members, thousands of families with sons, daughters and relatives with learning disabilities and/or autism it is on behalf of our members affected by the proposed closure by the South Tyneside Authorities of five of its special schools that we strongly oppose such closures.

  6.  The proposal cannot be justified as a "national plan" as stated—DfSE (now the Department for Children, Schools and Families) said, "Inclusion is not an agenda to close special schools".

  7.  The Government's Office for Disability Issues in a Consultative Document 2007 "Equality for disabled people: How will we know we are making progress?", in discussing support for disabled children including those with Special Educational Needs and their families its item 41 said:

    "There are a range of possible areas which might be suitable for monitoring over time in order to determine whether the government is making progress in terms of equality of opportunity for disabled children (including those with statements of Special Educational Need), particularly in the years leading up to their making the transition to adulthood. For example: To measure the effectiveness of the government's policies to encourage and support parental choice in education, and evaluate the impact of these policies on outcomes for disabled children, we could amongst other things, monitor parents' ability to access the educational provision of their choice (be it mainstream or special school), the suitability of school environments and support provided for disabled pupils, the educational achievements of disabled children and the proportion of disabled young people who go on to further or higher education"|

  8.  Far from assuming a fall in the numbers of children requiring special schools recent forecasts expect increased numbers of children with learning disabilities and/or autism over the next few decades (1% per year) who will surely require further developed properly resourced mainstream, special day and residential schools. These, as a choice option for parents, is a principle which Governments, past and present have afforded to all parents and which it intends to remain so.

  9.  It should not be a case of one type of school versus another but a comprehensive educational service with each option having a part to play. Since when were Universities considered segregational?

  10.  In the meantime by refusing referrals and offering only the mainstream option now, and in the future, the South Tyneside Local Authority is pre-empting its own consultative process in an exercise of denying adequate information re special schools as a choice option for parents who do know their child best. This could constitute an act of discrimination against their rights, and also not being in the best interests of their sons, daughters and relatives as is demanded by the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

  11.  One has to ask when did "modernisation" equate with closure? This and other conjectures are compatible with a process of using words to cover actions which are based on budgetary targets and not needs led. An abuse of terminology is invoked to cover intent in what amounts to be an experimental exercise in social engineering. Such children should not be used as a battering ram to pursue that which evidence increasingly proves not to be in their best interests.

  12.  In meeting the educational needs of children and young persons with learning disabilities and/or autism an holistic approach is essential beyond just the physical. This is necessary in order to accommodate their unique life long requirements which are deserving of meaningful choice options at the appropriate time by their families whose commitment is equally life long.

  13.  What the South Tyneside authorities are proposing would be the wholesale dismantling and loss of a well proven and essential part of an inclusive educational service on the false pretext of being over-populated and an unnecessary rationalisation. It is the quality of outcome for each individual that is the ultimate criterion not the process.

  14.  The proposals do not acknowledge the growing body of evidence, including the comments of Baroness Warnock who first, in 1978, recommended inclusion but now admits it has failed. A report by academics at Cambridge University suggest that many children with learning disabilities and special needs placed in mainstream, often undermining the education of others, are leaving teachers exhausted as they struggled to cope, often delegating responsibility for special needs pupils to classroom assistants|

  15.  The danger is that the expertise, leadership and relationships built up through the special schools sector is to be lost, submerged by the current fashion of ideological pursuit that a "one size fits all" imposition. "Idealism" as John Galsworthy said "increases in direct proportion to ones distance from the problem".

  16.  The Report of the Schools Working Group 2003 said: "In the coming years we see special schools as being, along with others, at the leading edge of the government's wider education agenda. We see them participating in the full range of Government initiatives and at the forefront of the wider education agenda. We see all types of special school—maintained, non-maintained and independent—working as equal partners with LEAs, mainstream schools, and other individuals and providers within health and social services. We see more head teachers and teachers choosing to join the sector because of the opportunities that are on offer, and because the sector is one with a secure and long-term future. Special schools have much to offer the wider education, health and social services communities, and it is time for their unique contribution to be recognised and valued"|

  17.  A Parliamentary Early Day Motion on behalf of RESCARE 2007 No. 2383 supporting Special Schools called on Government to re-affirm the principle of their choice as an option for parents whose children have special educational needs and to take effective steps to stop the unwarranted closure of special day and residential schools by local authorities which is contrary to stated Government policy. The EDM was signed by 103 MPs.

  18.  We asked that the members of the South Tyneside Select Committee give our submission the fullest consideration to the benefit of our members, and supportive non members alike, and thanking them for the opportunity to do so.

  19.  We offer the above to your Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights to fully justify the inclusion of the Government's necessary interpretive declaration and reservation in the Conventions Article 24.(Education) to avoid the dangers of such ill conceived practices as exampled by the South Tyneside Authority.

  20.  The implementation of the Government's position will ensure the retention of the expertise and environmental friendly special schools as a necessary and rightful parental choice option within an inclusive educational service of properly resourced mainstream, special day and residential schools.

  We thank you for the opportunity to submit evidence and trust that our response will be given your fullest and hopefully positive consideration.

28 October 2008

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