Improving Disabled Education in the UK
Nowadays the problem of disabled people is fundamental, especially in a democratic society. The main problem is the access of disabled people to the fundamental values the democratic community offers to its members. Among these basic values, education is probably the most important because it provides the possibilities for further development of an individual in different ways: professional growth, cultural development, social integration, etc.
Unfortunately, many disabled people feel deprived of this possibility since they are to a certain extent excluded from the society. It is why one of the main goals of education systems of different countries, including the UK, is to develop inclusive education, which is supposed to make all people equal in the access to education regardless their physical or mental abilities.
The problem of inclusion and integration of people with learning disabilities and mental health problems
First of all, it should be pointed out that disabled people have some problems, which are related to different spheres and not only to education. In general, the problems of disabled people that they come across may divide into three main categories. First of all, it is a problem of social exclusion, when disabled people remain in isolation from the rest of the society. This may result in poor housing and inadequate advocacy services disabled people have access to.
Secondly, the service provider may be characterized by inconsistency. It means people are getting different services in different parts of the country that creates some inconveniences for people with disabilities. For instance, the Department of Health indicates great differences across the country in the availability and coverage of services.
And the third category includes the problem of management of services. It means that often disabled people face barriers in their access to health care because of lack of cooperation between social and health services.
Nowadays, the situation has apparently been improved, but it is still not perfect. There were created some different programs and public organizations that aimed at improvement of the position of people with learning disabilities, as well as different legislative act were implemented in the UK aiming at the inclusive education of disabled people.
Moreover, the MHS and Community Care Act 1990 also aimed at the improvement of the position of disabled people. Notably, they obliged local authorities to provide adequate care management systems which could respond to individual requests for services, assess needs of disabled people, plan care by these needs, and deliver services to meet them where appropriate.
Furthermore, some legislative acts were promulgated aiming at the improvement of the position to the education of people with disabilities, especially concerning their access and integration in the education. Among these legislative acts may be named a White Paper concerning people with learning disabilities, often called Valuing People. This legislative law is very important for legislation concerning disabled people at large in England and Wales. This legislative act includes four basic principles: civil rights, independence, choice, and inclusion. The Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 gives disabled people, including people with learning disabilities, new rights in the area of transport, employment, information about education, property, goods, facilities, and services.
Unfortunately, even now people with disabilities face a lot of problems. Often they have excluded merely form services if they are found to be difficult to handle or are characterized by challenging behavior that naturally creates certain inconveniences. Decisions to eliminate a person with learning disabilities from a service should always be referred to the Learning Disability Partnership Board, which will be responsible for the provision of alternative services in such cases, provided the person meets the eligibility criteria.
Moreover, people with learning disabilities from minority ethnic communities are at particular risk of discrimination in gaining access to appropriate health care or proper treatment. It is imperative that specialists working with disabled people were real professionals, which could take into consideration cultural and language issues. It is important that they realized these issues, especially when assessing the state or progress of disabled people using English language only.
Experience in the field of disabled education in different countries
#1. Experience of China
Despite the fact that traditionally China was perceived as a non-democratic country, its experience in treating disabled people and especially disabled people in education is quite noteworthy. Obviously, Chinese experience is quite different from what may be observed in other countries, but this is exactly what makes this experience unique and worthy of discussions.
First of all, it should be pointed out that positive changes in disabled education in China, as well as in policy concerning disabled people at large, have started in recent years, to put it more precisely during last decade and a half. Over this relatively short period some very “important and precedent-setting National laws have been implemented to protect the rights of adult and children in China”. But what is important in the context of this paper is the fact that these laws are of particular significance when considering the rights of children to an education and all people with disabilities.
For instance, among the most important laws may be named the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Disabled Persons (Dec 28, 1990), according to which the main goal of the law is protection of disabled people and their rights, insurance of their equal and full participation in social life and their share of the material and cultural wealth in society (Stewart 2003).
As for the education of children with disabilities, the Chinese legislation pays particular attention to their problems. This legislation is particularly important when viewing children’s rights to an education. For instance, on August 23, 1994, the State Council of China promulgated Degree No 161 “Regulations on the Educations of Persons with Disabilities”, according to which the state guarantees the right of persons with disabilities to education and development of educational undertaking for persons with disabilities.
However, it should be pointed out that, despite such a significant progress in legislation protecting disabled people and providing new opportunities for disabled in education, it still has some drawbacks, such as other rights, including the rights to health, access to information, participation protection, identification, etc., which are also very important for development of individuals, are not clearly spelled out in the existing legislation.
Nonetheless, Chinese experience is noteworthy because it is different from traditional approaches in developed countries, such as the UK, for instance. The main difference between Chinese policy and legislation is their focus on state support. In fact, the state plays the key role while private initiatives are practically deprived, if not forbidden, especially if compared to developed countries. At the same time, it raises the problem up to the national, state level and the solution is guided by the state mainly that helps to mobilize resources of the whole country that can rarely be observed in developed countries, where programs and non-profitable organizations play an important role in disabled education and integration of disabled people in a normal social life.
#2. Experience of the USA
Traditionally, the US is considered to be among the most democratic countries where the rights of all citizens are equal. However, it is not always true and such a judgment is often based on stereotypes and the situation with disabled in education reveals some problems that exist in this country. One of the main legislation acts that protected disabled people in education in the US was the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, but nowadays the American legislation concerning this problem is reviewed. The main aim of the changes of legislation is improvement and maintenance of quality of education of the disabled on both federal and local level.
Since education in the US largely remains under local control, “many parents of the disabled find themselves acting as their advocates to make sure the laws are upheld given the tendency of some locality to make decisions based on the idea that the expense of educating the disabled is more than they can handle”. As a result, the funding of programs aiming at the improvement of the position of disabled people in education often turns or seems to be insufficient.
As for the recent trends in educating disabled people, the strategic goal for the past few decades has been to include them in classrooms of a typical student. In all probability, this is a very perspective direction of integration of disabled people into the conventional educational system, and this would probably improve the situation in inclusive education but, at the same time, it is necessary to realize that it is quite a complicated process. On the one hand, it often needs some additional funding, on the other hand, it is a big problem for both disabled student and the rest of students because sometimes, for disabled students for instance, it is difficult to be psychologically integrated into the class.
Furthermore, another problem that may be perceived as a typical problem of the US is the inclusion of disabled children from different cultural communities. It is a well-known fact that often there exists a language barrier problem which makes the process of integration of a disabled child difficult to the extent that it is even possible to speak about language disability as another problem of a child’s inclusion in the classroom and school life.
Nevertheless, the American legislation concerning the disabled in education may be considered to be quite progressive.
For instance, its basic components include the following points:
- Children with disabilities have the right to enroll in any school at all levels;
- Schools have a mandate to provide education to all disabled children, otherwise, they risk to lose government financial aid;
- Children with disabilities should be taught in the least restrictive environment, and they should be ‘mainstreamed’ in regular classes so that they can develop appropriate peer models;
- Individualized education programs should be developed for children with disabilities, to ensure that each child gains the maximum benefit from special education
In such a way, formally disabled children have good perspectives for integration in the regular education process.
#3. Experience of Canada
Canadian experience of the solution of the problem of disabled people in education is also noteworthy. It should be said that Canadian experience may also be treated as a relatively successful one like that of the US but, unlike in previous cases, it would be probably more interesting to dwell upon financial aspect of the problem, since, as the experience of the US shows, there may be problem with funding of programs contributing to better integration of disabled people into education.
At this respect, it is possible to rewind history. To put it more precisely, it is necessary to underline that the federal government never cost-shared over 50% of all provincial health care spending, and since 1977 has provided block-funding support to provincial health care and post-secondary education spending through a combination of cash and tax transfers.
Such a 50:50 cost-sharing regime covered a defined and restricted range of provincial spending on health care and education of disabled children. For instance, expenditures on mental and tuberculosis hospitals, home care, certain outpatient diagnostic services, administration costs, government financial aid to schools were not cost-shared. As a result, until 1977, the federal share of total provincial health care spending was never greater than 41%.
However, once the programs became established, all governments agreed to replace cost sharing of specific provincial expenditures on health and post-secondary education for disabled children with block funding, which “gives provinces much greater flexibility in how they allocate federal transfers, addressed provincial concerns that cost sharing distorted provincial spending decisions and favoured better-off provinces since they could afford to spend more and so attract more federal dollars than less well-off paying provinces”.
In such a situation such an innovation contributed to better funding health care and education of disabled people that naturally helped to integrate them into healthy social life as well as school life in particular. Obviously, the increase of effectiveness of using the funds by local authorities contributed to the improvement of the financial position of schools where disabled children studied and the position of children themselves.
In fact, it is necessary to point out that proper funding is an essential condition of normal development of disabled children integration in education. Moreover, without good funding, it is impossible to speak about the realization of the goals of inclusive education for disabled children. This is why the improved funding resulted in the improved integration of disabled students.
Also, it is very important to underline that in Canada, as well as in the US, non-profit organizations play a very important role in the solution of the problems disabled children face in their integration in a traditional school life. However, their activity is not sufficient and needs state support, and the example above shows that the problems existing between federal and local authorities are quite typical for Canada and the non-profit organizations may face the same type of problems because of the lack of mutual understanding with the authorities.
Recommendations as for improvement of disabled education in the UK
Obviously, the current situation in the education system of the UK concerning disabled people is not perfect and needs to be improved. Taking into consideration the experience of other countries and new trends in this domain, it is possible to work out certain recommendations concerning the improvement of disabled education in the UK.
First of all, it should be said that it is necessary to integrate disabled students into a traditional school system. It is not an easy task, but it is quite realizable. To achieve positive results in this direction, it is primarily necessary to make the conditions equal for all students. It means that disabled student should have equal rights and access to education and their disability should not be an obstacle isolating them from their peers and rest of society. Formally, the situation in the UK may seem not so bad because from the legislative point of view disabled students in the UK have an opportunity to be equal to other students, which do not have such problems. But the problem appears when the practical realization of their rights faces some difficulties, such as the lack of financing, for instance.
At this respect, it is quite useful to refer to the experience of Canada and properly organize financing of schools where disabled children want to study, as well as healthcare organizations. By the way, it is very important to underline the word ‘want’ in the previous statement because the situations, when disabled children have to learn in schools, where they do not want to study, are not rare. But it is obvious that disabled children should have an opportunity to attend schools of their own choice.
Furthermore, this category of children needs special conditions for education because they often cannot physically act as other children do. It means that all schools should be adapted to receive disabled students and it has to become a norm of school life to make the integration of disabled children as easy and as fast as possible. The reason is quite simple, children get used to innovations very fast, since educating disabled children needs certain innovation in the education process and special conveniences, which could improve the position of disabled children, then it is necessary to introduce these innovations in possibly shorter terms.
Also, it is important to remember that students, especially disabled ones, should be psychologically prepared to attend regular classrooms that would probably need some psychological training or programs. In fact, the main goal of inclusive education is to eliminate all exceptions and make disabled students an integral part of the conventional school life.
This can be achieved only when the whole society is focused on this problem. It means that public non-profit organizations, government, and local authorities should cooperate and attempt to achieve the main goal of inclusive education. By the way, it is necessary to remember that the role of government should be even greater than it is nowadays since aid from non-profit organizations or even aid from commercial sources is unstable and consequently it is difficult to rely on these sources of financing.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the current education system does not provide equal opportunities for all students, especially for those with disabilities. Even though formally there are practically equal opportunities for all of them, practically an inclusive education is still hardly realizable.
However, inclusive education for disabled students is a sort of ideal that is not achieved yet anywhere in the world but the experience of different countries both developed, such as the US or Canada, and developing, such as China, may reveal the ways, which lead to possibly better implementation of theoretical and legislative norms aiming at the improvement of the position of disabled students in schools and education system at large.
What is important is the fact that the society realizes the importance of the problem and the goals are defined, and the only thing the community has to do is to achieve these goals, but this is probably the most challenging thing all of us have to do.
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