The Aims of the Conference

In 2006 in outlining the rights of disabled people to education, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities set forth a commitment to ‘full inclusion’. Inclusive Education as an ideal has been gaining ground internationally. The fine details may be contested, but most advocates agree that it is about ensuring equal access to and good quality provision within ‘mainstream’ education for disabled children; and reimagining education systems such that they might help build an inclusive society. These are of course high ideals. In reality, whilst progress is made every day, the struggle to make inclusive education the ‘norm’ in all societies is far from over and the struggle continues.

Here in the UK, the picture is complex and not a little depressing. More children with physical and sensory impairments are now educated in mainstream schools than was the case in 1970 – this is clearly good news. Yet the total number of pupils enrolled in special schools in 2000 was higher than in 1970 (Office for National Statistics 2000) – a worrying fact. A major report into inclusive education by the UK Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED 2004) brought into question the idea that inclusion is happening in all schools. Teaching provision for children who have ‘special educational needs’, was found to be of ‘varying quality, with a high proportion of lessons having shortcomings’ (OFSTED 2004: 5). Since then, efforts have been made to address these issues, but provision has continued to be been inconsistent (OFSTED 2006). Whilst examples of good practice do exist and are to be celebrated, evidence of on-going ‘problems’ raises the question of the extent to which the UK has made good on its commitment to ‘full inclusion’.

This question of commitment took a new and worrying turn in 2011, when the newly elected UK Government declared its desire to ‘remove the bias towards inclusion’. This reluctance on the part of the government to commit to the ideal has sparked fears for the future of inclusive education.

At this critical juncture, the Centre for Disability Studies believed it was timely to bring together those committed to the ideal of inclusive education, to ‘take stock’ of progress to date, share our hopes and aspirations for inclusive education and identify the barriers to achieving these goals. To this end we invited speakers and delegates to join with us to debate:

Why inclusive education matters…

When it doesn’t happen it is because…

We can achieve inclusive education if…

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