Row erupts over special schools

The National Autistic Society is opposing a new disability rights campaign to close all special schools by 2020 and bring disabled pupils into mainstream schooling.

But Scope, which - like the National Autistic Society - runs special schools for local authorities, is backing the 2020 campaign. It is holding a meeting this week with representatives from the 2020 campaign to discuss alternatives to special education and how special-needs pupils - whether they are disabled or have behavioural problems - could be integrated into mainstream schools.

Groups including Disability Equality in Education and the Campaign for Inclusive Education launched the 2020 campaign this month with the aim of reintegrating disabled pupils over the next 15 years.

Scope chief executive Tony Manwaring said: "Scope is fully committed in principle to the aims of the 2020 campaign, which aims to close all special schools and colleges in the UK. It is essential that we think through how that commitment can be achieved in practice." Scope is to hold a seminar on Thursday entitled 'Mainstream Education - The Way Forward' to come up with practical suggestions and establish priorities for implementing the strategy.

The NAS argues that some children with autism are better off in a specialist setting, even though many could be supported to play a full role in mainstream schools.

Mike Collins, the society's head of education, said: "Placing a child in mainstream classrooms without adequate support will lead to integration without social inclusion or educational progress at best, and destructive behaviour and exclusion in the worst cases."

2020 campaign director Michelle Mason hit back at the NAS, saying: "The society is not run by people with autism. As with many organisations for disabled people, it runs special schools and will, of course, defend them.

"The 2020 campaign is based on the experience of disabled adults who went to special education schools. They experienced abuse, isolation and failure that emotionally scarred thousands for life. It's time to end this shameful exclusion that ruins lives."

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