July 14, 2003

This sounds ominous:

The school secretary is forlorn. The caretaker is beside himself with fury. Dean Hall, a school for children with special educational needs in the Forest of Dean, is to close in September 2005.

Parents marched in the street to save the school, but the Labour-run council said it was following the Government's policy of including all but the most seriously disabled or disturbed children in mainstream classes.

The local school organisation committee, which oversees admissions and places, referred the controversial closure to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, set up under the 1998 School Standards and Framework Act.

The adjudicator, Hilary Nicolle, the former education director of the London borough of Islington, backed the council and said that it had a legal obligation to close special schools and divert the money to mainstream classes to comply with the Government's inclusion policy.

Her word is final unless the parents can find the funds to apply to the High Court for a judicial review of the decision. If the ruling stands, it could sound the death knell for hundreds of other schools under threat.

The picture is complicated by the Government's interpretation of its own laws. While inclusion remains its stated aim, ministers seem unwilling to accept that it entails the closure of special schools.

Publishing the report of her working party on the future direction of special schools last April, Baroness Ashton, the minister with responsibility for special education, told The Telegraph: "I am very worried that somehow people believe the Government's agenda is to close special schools, when it absolutely isn't."

What's going on here?

I think it is clear. The government has been reading Brian's Education Blog and has realised that state education is a Bad Idea. They want to turn Britain into a nation of home schoolers and private schoolers. They want to destroy state education, as quickly as they can. But how can they make the destruction of state education seem like a Good Idea to their barking mad backbenchers who think that state education is such a Good Thing?

One day a year or two ago, some policy advising genius came up with the answer. Why don't we close down all the specialist schools where they now do whatever they can to help children who need special teaching to make any educational headway, and who often misbehave if they don't get it? Children of this sort are not that numerous, not as a percentage. But if they can be "reintegrated" back into the "school community", and scattered in twos and threes throughout the existing state schools, the havoc they will cause and the teacher attention they will divert from the currently docile majority will be out of all proportion to their numbers.

I am a devout enemy of state education, but even I would shrink from the sheer ruthlessness needed to make a policy like this stick. That's politicians for you, I guess. Nothing if not decisive. Ever willing to break eggs to get their omelettes.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:32 PM
Category: Politics