David Cameron accused over school policies by father of disabled boy

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Indy Politics

David Cameron was accused today of seeking to segregate disabled children in the education system by the father of a boy with spina bifida who tackled him as he left a General Election campaign speech.

Jonathan Bartley, who confronted the Conservative leader with his wheelchair-bound son as he left the event in south London, voiced his concern about Tory plans to "end the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools".



He told Mr Cameron about the two-year struggle he had faced to get seven-year-old Samuel into his local mainstream school, and said the existing system was already biased against disabled children being educated alongside their able-bodied peers.



Mr Cameron insisted that, as the parent of a disabled child himself, he was "passionate" about helping them get the education that was right for them and would not do anything to make it more difficult for them.



But Mr Bartley, from south London, said: "It is the wrong way to go. You are not representing the needs of children in mainstream education. You want to segregate disabled children."



The Conservative manifesto states: "The most vulnerable children deserve the very highest quality of care, so we will call a moratorium on the ideologically-driven closure of special schools.



"We will end the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools."



But Mr Bartley told the Tory leader, who had just delivered a speech on what he called "the broken society": "You are saying you want to reverse the bias towards the inclusion of children in mainstream schools. At the moment there is a bias against inclusion, not a bias for it, as your manifesto says.



"You talk about the broken society. It nearly broke up our family getting our son into school.



"His two sisters go there, it's our local school, we have had to struggle for two years and in the end the Secretary of State had to intervene. There is a bias against inclusion and you are saying there's a bias for it."



Mr Cameron - whose disabled son Ivan died last year - said: "I absolutely promise you that I would never do anything to make it more difficult for children to go to a mainstream school.



"At the moment, people don't get what they want. You didn't get what you wanted, I didn't get what I wanted. We both had to fight.



"We are going to make it easier by making sure that statements (of special needs) are not provided by local education authorities, they are provided by someone separate.



"I couldn't be more passionate about the subject. I had a hell of a battle with my own son.



"We have got to get the children into the school they want, whether it is mainstream or whether it is special. I want you to get what's right for your son. It should be your choice. You shouldn't have to battle."

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