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Free schools for autism: A step backwards in time

Today the BBC published an article linking Paul Shattock’s parent-funded school for autism, the first residential provision in the UK, to the new “free schools” being set up by parents under current government policy. Sorry, but this is hardly a positive link to make–and knowing Paul well (I used to work with him at the Autism Research Centre at Sunderland, he was co-supervisor of my PhD dissertation) being tied to this retrogressive Tory policy is hardly something he’s likely to be happy about.
Here’s the real link: 40 years ago, parents of autistic children (who were judged “ineducable” and therefore unworthy of state education) had no choice but to set up their own provision, begging for charity and even mortgaging their own homes to do so. Their children were denied equal rights to education and life in the community, and forced to attend segregated provision run by charities, provision that was (as the article highlights) dependent on parents running it as a second job and always one grant application or private donation away from closure. Paul’s effort was fantastic, and ESPA runs some very good provision, but recreating it in 2014 is very literally a step backwards in time for autistic children.
Parents today, in a post-Warnock Report, post-Education Act, post-Salamanca Statement world, should not be having to do this, and very few children on the spectrum, if any, should be attending segregated schools (and especially not residential provision far from their families and communities). Returning to the past is hardly something to be proud of.

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