Grammar Schools Must Serve Disabled Children, Too
The BBC’s main headline today is “Grammar Schools Must Serve Ordinary Families.” This is based on a speech by Education Secretary Justine Greening.
Let me put on record that I fully agree with her statement. However, I want to take it one step further. I believe that, in order to be fully inclusive, grammar schools must serve anyone who has the academic ability to attend them. This must include disabled children.
Disabled children like myself cannot be forgotten in the debate about whether to create more grammar schools. The article linked, which was written in December, states:
“Compared to the secondary school population as a whole, grammars contain 18 times fewer children with special educational needs or education health and care plans, and three times fewer disabled children without such documentation.”
One reason why grammar schools would be reluctant to accept pupils in wheelchairs, of course, would be that they may not be in accessible buildings. This, of course, applies to all mainstream schools. However today, all buildings must be wheelchair accessible by law. So lack of wheelchair access is no longer a legally acceptable reason for a school not to accept a disabled pupil.
Thankfully most state schools have been ready to make changes to their buildings to keep this law, since it came in. Before creating any more grammar schools, the government needs to ensure that they would be given fully accessible buildings, so that they would not be able to use this as a reason to reject disabled pupils who pass the entrance exam. Grammar schools which are already running and are not wheelchair accessible should also be made to update their buildings to keep the law.
Also, grammar schools should make every effort to make their entrance exams fully accessible. All the usual adjustments and allowances should be made for a disabled pupil who wants to take the entrance exam. Extra time, separate rooms, rest breaks, typing answers or dictating them to someone else to write, large print papers. The list may sound endless but it is necessary. And, once a disabled pupil has passed the entrance exam, the same adjustments should be made for them in lessons.
Disabled children are intelligent, too. I was once a disabled child with a high level of intelligence. I never applied to a grammar school but if I had tried, I could have got through the 11+ exam.
I have many very intelligent disabled friends. I know there are many disabled children out there with a lot to offer any mainstream school, grammar or not, particularly in traditional academic subjects.
All any disabled child needs in mainstream education, all we ever asked for, is a chance to try. As the government considers creating more grammar schools and opening them to children from ‘ordinary’ families, I ask them not to forget disabled children.
I ask the government to clarify, at the earliest opportunity, what provision they plan to make for academically able disabled children at any new grammar schools they may create. While they are at it, I ask them to open more of those grammar schools that already exist to us, too.