The plan for 37 new special schools in England. Children, parents, teachers, teaching assistants, and therapists beware! Or am I being too pessimistic?

At worst, there could be a slow change from special schools to special ‘units’ that are run for profit with their own staffing arrangements

Peter Limbrick writes: We are in very difficult times in the UK because of austerity and hardening attitudes in government and public to people who have disabilities and special needs. So what is the worst than can happen?

My newspaper has given two examples in recent days of what is already happening.

Firstly, in the i on 21st October, 2019, Ian Birrell continues his concern for people with autism and learning disabilities being warehoused out of society’s sight. Here are two extracts:

‘I have talked to many more families, activists and patients over the past year for a barrage of investigative articles and columns. I was told again and again of families turning to the state for help, often at adolescence, only to see their sons and daughters end up in secure hospitals that make stresses escalate despite teenagers not suffering mental illness.’

‘These are actions we thought consigned to the grim past. Meanwhile desperate families are legally silenced while multinational firms profit from a trade in human misery.’

Secondly, in the same paper on 23rd October 2019 a short piece tells us:

Education reforms remain ‘unrealised’: Reforms designed to improve support for children with special educational needs in England have not been implemented due to lack of funding, say MPs. The Education Committee said the ambition of The Children and Families ACT 2014 ‘remains to be realised’.

In the Times on October 26th, 2019 Jessie Hewitson writes:

Parents of children with special educational needs are having to sell their homes to fund legal battles to get the support to which they are entitled. Some are having to take local authorities to court five times to secure an education for their children, according to Ambitious about Autism. “We’ve spoken to parents who have sold their homes, lost their life savings or changed retirement plans,” Jolanta Lasota, chief executive of the charity, said.

The government plans 37 new special schools for England. Is this good news for children and families? Or should we beware?

On the DNS (Disability News Service) website we learn:

Inclusive education campaigners have condemned the government’s announcement that it is funding 37 new special free schools, with segregated institutions for disabled children set to be opened in every part of England.

I have other concerns about 37 new special schools because of the examples above of abusive treatment of children and teenagers with special needs, which are happening now with government knowledge. Here are some of my anxieties:

  • A school governing body that believes its league table position is endangered by children with special needs will surely welcome a new local special school into which they can decant some children, with or without children or parents’ consent.

  • As austerity and negative attitudes continue, new special schools might decide to make staff-pupil ratios the same as in mainstream schools and use teaching assistants to make up for the reduction in teaching staff. Spending on therapists might be reduced as far as possible.

  • The ethos of the new schools or units will shift gradually from education to care and containment with expensive head teachers being replaced by nurse managers. Following the practice in secure hospitals, parents and journalists will be kept at a distance.

  • Medications will be used to guarantee the smooth running of the unit rather than to enhance the wellbeing of individual children.

  • Education departments will benefit financially as the trend continues for desperate parents to resort to home schooling.

I am not using a crystal ball to predict the future. I am merely looking at some present trends and imagining how they could continue as long as harsh attitudes about disability continue and public services are kept short of the money they need. Please send me an e-mail to show me my pessimism is not justified.

Peter Limbrick, November 2019. Post into your social media if you wish.

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