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An Exposé - the origins of Inclusion in the UK

Read Robin Jackson’s review of SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS: A NEW LOOK IMPACT: No. 11 in a series of policy discussions Mary Warnock

An extract

The fact is that in comparison with earlier government commissioned enquiries (e.g., Plowden, Newsom, Robbins) the Warnock Report achieved relatively little, partly because there were not the resources to fund significant changes and partly because the Warnock Committee had been forced to accept the case for integration which had already been set out in Section 10 of the 1976 Education Act.

Parliamentary process

On 1st July 1976, Clause 17 of the Education Bill was debated for the first time in the House of Commons. The aim of the clause was to change the emphasis of education for the handicapped from provision in special schools to provision in ordinary schools. From an examination of Hansard it is evident that there was persistent confusion among MPs as to the different meanings of the two central concepts – ‘handicap’ and ‘integration’. Those speeches in favour of integration referred only to the predicament of the child and adult with a physical disability. However, for a number of reasons, Clause 17 never reached a third reading largely because there was some doubt about the costs of implementing a policy of integration. The debate in the House of Commons was uncontroversial with no party divisions. The only difference of The British Journal of Developmental Disabilities Vol. 52, Part 1, January 2006, No. 102, pp. 65-71 opinion was between those advocating integration of pupils with physical disabilities into ordinary schools and those who sought to assess the practicality of the proposal. The assurance given by Miss Margaret Jackson, the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, that Clause 17 was not essential was the deciding factor. She doubted the necessity of a legal requirement to integrate, as it was her belief that integration could be successfully achieved without further legislation Clause 17 was withdrawn.

Given that ministerial assurance one might have thought that would have been the end of the story. But on 29th July 1976 the amended Education Bill, that had been passed in the Commons, reached the House of Lords.

In introducing the Bill, Lord Donaldson, Minister of State for Education and Science, spoke at length on those clauses in the Bill which related to the implementation of comprehensive secondary education. Discussion on these clauses lasted several months.

However on the 7th October, whilst the House was debating the subject of school milk, Baroness Phillips introduced Clause 10, which was a slightly altered but still recognisable version of Clause 17 which had been withdrawn three months earlier in the Commons.

Lord Donaldson pointed out that acceptance of this new clause would constitute an overnight reversal of policy of a kind for which there were neither the resources nor the goodwill on the part of many authorities to implement. One person who spoke strongly in favour of the new clause was Lord Vaizey who in doing so made reference to Mary Warnock who he stated was “a very old friend and colleague of mine from my days at Oxford”. This remark may have been calculated to give the impression that he was in some way speaking on her behalf. He went on to speak of the length of time which committees such as the Warnock Committee generally took in reporting. He observed that this would be the last occasion for some time for Parliament to amend the law on this subject. This observation paid little regard to the constitutional niceties, disregarding, as it did, the fact that the Warnock Committee had been commissioned by the previous government to make recommendations on the issue of integration.

The debate was concluded by Baroness Phillips who argued that the inclusion of Clause 10 could not be construed as being ‘revolutionary’, as Lord Donaldson had claimed, and that it should be passed. And so it was!

What is revealing here is that the rational and balanced debate in the Commons was superseded by what Hansard showed to be an emotional, ill-informed and superficial discussion in the House of Lords. In that discussion there was no reference to any research data or indeed evidence of any kind, other than reference to individuals, most of whom were highly privileged, and with whom the speakers were personally acquainted.

It soon became evident that Section 10 (formerly Clause 10) had been introduced as a result of pressure applied by a small, powerful and readily identifiable lobby which represented the interests of a minority within the ‘handicapped’ population (i.e., physically handicapped/intellectually able). The tactics employed by this lobby succeeded in outmanoeuvring the government, the Department of Education and Science and most of the professional organisations. It was a pre-emptive strike taken by a lobby that had concluded that the Warnock Committee might not at the end of its deliberations give unqualified support for a policy of integration.

What is disturbing from a constitutional standpoint is the fact that a handful of privileged and non-elected members of the Upper House were able to introduce an important legislative change on the basis of an ill-informed debate which, according to Hansard, lasted less than 41 minutes. The change proposed was of a fundamental nature and one that ran counter not only to the expressed wishes of the government but to the views of most professional and voluntary organisations.

Critical reaction

The introduction of Section 10 caused an instant tidal wave of critical reaction. The National Association of Schoolteachers/Union of Women Teachers issued a statement on the 7th October which was published in The Times citing difficulties in implementing the proposals. A letter from Mary Warnock was published in The Times Educational Supplement of the 11th November criticising the inclusion of Section 10.

A Times leader on the 11th November observed that the new legislation would lead to considerable controversy. On the 19th November The Times carried a letter from Mary Warnock repeating her concern that the clause had been passed precipitately. It is interesting to contrast the ways in which the inclusion of Clause 10 in the Education Bill was subsequently reported. One account of the debate is provided by the Association of Disabled Professionals – the organisation which had featured so prominently in the ‘evidence’ cited during both debates in Parliament. The introduction of the Clause was described as the logical denouement of rational debates in both Houses of Parliament. Satisfaction was expressed that there had been no real controversy in either debate!

The fact that the government spokesman in the House of Lords had urged that the amendment be withdrawn in order that Parliament could await the findings of the Government Committee of Enquiry was ignored.

The foreword to the National Union of Teacher’s booklet Special Education in Ordinary Schools published in 1977 made it clear that the inclusion of this clause in the Bill was quite unexpected …. (NUT, 1977). Serious doubts were also expressed as to the effects of implementing Section 10. In the NUT’s view this could not be seen as progress but rather a decline in the provision of special education, and a subsequent deterioration of educational opportunities for children with disabilities. Reference was also made to the fact that the NUT had submitted evidence to the Warnock Committee warning it against approving a policy of integration.

In arguing so strongly and passionately for the inclusion of Clause 10, one might have thought that Baroness Phillips and her fellow peers were representing a majority view. But a close examination of the evidence submitted to the Warnock Committee by a cross-section of twenty professional and voluntary organisations reveals quite a different picture (Hayhoe, 1981). Whilst most organisations sympathised with the principle of integration, the majority favoured it for groups of children other than those they represented. All were concerned that certain arrangements had to be put in place before integration could be successfully carried out. Those organisations which were most favourably disposed to integration were all concerned with educational provision for children with physical disabilities.