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

Memorandum submitted by the Alliance for Inclusive Education

  Alliance for Inclusive Education is national information sharing and campaigning network, led by disabled people with parents, teachers and educationalists as allies. We are the only organisation, controlled by disabled people, that focuses on campaigning and policy development work on education issues. We see our role as bringing together all the "stakeholders" under the leadership of disabled people, to challenge, inform, and campaign for "social justice" and equality for all these disadvantaged and marginalised children and young people.

  Since 1990 the Alliance has campaigned for the right of all disabled learners to be included in mainstream education. The Alliance was part of the lobby that campaigned for SEN legislation that removed many of the barriers to inclusion and it is through the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 that the vast majority of disabled learners are now being educated in their local mainstream education setting alongside their friends and peers.

  We approach all our work from the social model of disability. The social model of disability is a fundamental principle of the duty to promote disability equality.


  ALLFIE's core principle is that inclusive education like health and social care, freedom of liberty amongst others are all equally human rights which must be upheld and protected by Government.

  Inclusive Education is the cornerstone for developing an inclusive community where disabled and non disabled people play, learn, work and grow up together. An inclusive community fosters mutual respect and upholding of each other's dignity and humanity as these young people articulate:

    "Inclusion for me is about a society, which respects the humanity of its people." (Disabled young person, Nottinghamshire)

    "I don't think there should be special schools because all children must be together, and if we are separated, we can't possibly know what different people in society are like. I feel no one can live isolated from others. This is terribly painful and extremely unfair. Most of the people are different and have some problem. If they could be classified and separated, they would be assigned to different places. What kind of society would this be?" Juan Cobeñas, 2 August 2006

  The Government has already demonstrated it's commitment to the equality of disabled people in its 2005 "Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People" report. The report sets outs an ambitious target of securing equality for disabled people by 2025. Setting an end date demonstrates the Government's understanding that a great deal of work need to be done with regard to the removal of existing barriers to disabled people's equality. It also indicates the understanding that there is a need to work towards the progressive realisation of disabled people's human rights and a move towards an inclusive society where inequalities between disabled and non disabled people will be eradicated.

  This commitment was demonstrated further by the UK Government being one of the first to sign the new UN Convention for Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in March 2007.

  ALLFIE is deeply disappointed, therefore, that the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) remains unmoved in its plan to place a reservation and interpretative declaration against Article 24. It is our view that taking such a decision is clearly out of step with the views and aspirations by society for disabled learners.

  Tara Flood, ALLFIE's Director attended the UN Adhoc Committee meetings in New York, so is acutely aware of the positive impact, globally, of a human rights treaty that recognising the particular experience of the 600 million disabled people across the world.


  ALLFIE is fully aware that it would be unrealistic to expect an education system that would be inclusive and welcoming of ALL learners immediately, but given that over forty countries have now ratified the UNCRPD without placing reservations or interpretative declarations against Article 24, ALLFIE can rightfully assume that those countries also believe that an inclusive education system can be achieved over a period of time. Those states parties who have ratified the UNCRPD have clearly taken into account that it will take time to redesign education related legislation, policies, and services to ensure that inclusive education is both achievable and sustainable for ALL disabled learners.

  That is why the UNCRPD has to be aspirational in nature because its aim is to create a "paradigm shift" in the way the world views disabled people. This is particularly relevant to social economic and cultural rights, which includes education. Article 4 (General Obligations) Clause (2) allows time for states parties to plan and implement economic social and cultural rights (including inclusive education rights) over a given period of time so that the states party can work towards full compliance with the UNCRD.

  ALLFIE recognises, in particular the importance of Article 24 (Education) in the UNCRPD and in particular the impact that such forward thinking text will have on the access to education for disabled learners. Currently this is a right that is seldom respected—less than 2% of disabled children in the majority world have access to education.

  As we have already highlighted, the UK Government has experience of working in this way. Other examples where the UK Government has worked toward rights for disabled people over a period of time is the 1995 and 2005 Disability Discrimination Act and 2001 Special Educational Needs and Disability Act. the Government's "Building Schools and Colleges for the Future" programme is support schools and colleges to improve the physical environment which, in theory, will increase access for disabled learners and ultimately play a part in reducing existing educational inequality. The 2005 DDA has, over a period of time, created new obligations on education settings (schools, FE and HE institutions) to promote disability equality through the production of Disability Equality Schemes.

  Article 24, of the UNCRPD, will create a positive benchmark for guiding the direction of future education policy and legislation which will affect disabled and non disabled students alike and ALLFIE believes that this is something that the UK Government should embrace as an opportunity to progress their commitment to delivering equality by 2025. As increasingly numbers of students are or would like to access Further and Higher Education and other informal education courses we would like such education providers embrace the commitment of including disabled students in their local provision.

  ALLFIE also recognises the extraordinary journey that member Government representatives and NGO representatives took during the debates around Article 24. The legitimate concerns raised about the practical implications for delivering an inclusive education system did not go unheard. However such protracted debates resulted in a consensus that inclusive education was the best way in which disabled people could achieve equality, citizenship and be fully recognised as valued human beings.

  ALLFIE's publications "Snapshots of Possibilities" and "Where Are They Are Now" both contain many practical illustrations of how disabled young people can be included in mainstream education.

  OFSTED in their 2006 "Inclusion—Does It Matter Where Pupils Are Taught?" report highlighted that more good and outstanding provision was found in resourced mainstream schools than anywhere else. Newham and Nottingham have been working towards providing supported mainstream education across all its educational provision. OFSTED also concluded that effectively supporting disabled people's learning is not dependent on specialist provision rather ethos of the school.

  Also in 2006 the DCSF published a ground breaking resource for schools to assist with finding solutions to including disabled learners. The "Implementing the DDA in Schools and Early Years Setting" pack was based on interviews with 40 mainstream schools and a number of key factors for successful inclusion included:

    —  Vision and values based on an inclusive ethos.

    —  A "can do" attitude from all staff.

    —  A Pro-active approach to identifying barriers and finding practical solutions.

    —  A strong collaborative relationships with parents and pupils.

    —  A meaningful voice for disabled pupils.

    —  A positive approach to managing behaviour.

    —  Strong Leadership by senior management and governors.

    —  Effective staff training and development.

  ALLFIE believes that all disabled learners will benefit from such positive and profound experience that comes with learning alongside their nondisabled peers. ALLFIE is convinced that Article 24 is key to supporting this realization.

    "Inclusive education is a much more profound and deeper challenge to our schooling system and the way we think about learning. The starting principle is that each and every learner, irrespective of the nature or degree of their impairment should have the right to belong to their local school and their local community, with meaningful and appropriate support, enabling each learner to participate and contribute to such a learning community." (Inclusion campaigner and ally, Bolton)

  ALLFIE is a member of the UN Convention Campaign Coalition which is currently advising the Joint Committee on Human Rights that the UN Convention should be ratified without any reservations and interpretative directives and ALLFIE would support this position. The Government will not be upholding the spirit of the Convention if ratification of the whole Convention does not happen as soon as possible.

  ALLFIE have written to Ed Balls (Secretary of State for DSCF) in September asking for a meeting to discuss the ratification of UN Convention for People with Disabilities without any reservations to Article 24. We hope that the Joint Committee on Human Rights will advice on the ratification of the whole convention which will ensure disabled peoples human rights are universally protected regardless where they live.

31 October 2008

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