Tories may educate disabled children in separate schools outside mainstream

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Indy Politics

Disabled children could be removed from mainstream schools and educated in segregated establishments for children with special needs under a Tory government.

The Conservatives have started a review of "inclusive" education, which encourages the teaching of disabled pupils alongside their able-bodied peers, in a move that will prove controversial among disability groups, which have campaigned for years for the right to access mainstream schools.

The review, announced by Paul Goodman, the party's spokesman on disability, will examine whether disabled pupils would receive more attention in schools for children with physical and learning disabilities.

A Conservative consultation document published this week asked: "Is the Government's policy of inclusive education for disabled children working, or are disabled children being physically included but educationally excluded?"

The Conservatives are also re-examining the Government's policy of providing financial support for employers that take on disabled staff and looking at Government funding for organisations that employ only disabled people.

The review is part of a drive to promote a more modern image with proposals that appeal to people from all backgrounds. The Tories will consult dozens of disability groups over the next two months to find solutions to "the many challenges faced by the disabled on a day-to-day basis".

Mr Goodman criticised the Government for holding only one full debate on disability since the last election. "The demand for equal opportunities by women, by minority ethnic groups, by lesbians and gays and by disabled people is part of the life of modern Britain. The Conservative Party won't win elections by pitching its appeal to a bygone age," he said.

However, disability groups warned against turning back the clock with polices that could lead to greater segregation. Tess McManus, of Disabled Action in Islington, north London, said disabled people should have the right to apply for any job they wanted, with employers making it possible for them to work. "For me segregation makes very little sense," she said. "As a disabled person I want to apply for a job anywhere. The population is ageing so therefore the number of disabled people in the workplace is on the up."

The Tory plans to review education for the disabled follow complaints from some parents that there are no places in special schools for children with disabilities, or they are struggling in mainstream schools.

The RNID, the charity for the deaf, said parents should have a choice where they educate their children, but that in some cases special schools for children with profound deafness were appropriate.

"We think it should be a matter of choice," a spokesman said . "In general we would encourage integration."