A college in the heart of a London borough that has pioneered inclusive education is facing fierce criticism over claims that it is to devote a segregated floor of one of its buildings to students with learning difficulties.
Campaigners for inclusive education are appalled at the idea that Newham College is pressing ahead with the plans, despite Newham council’s ground-breaking work on inclusion.
Reports suggest the college is spending £1 million on the new project, which is being co-funded by the government’s Education Funding Agency and “developed in partnership” with Newham council.
The college this week refused to provide details, or to confirm that the project would offer segregated facilities.
But inclusive education activist Sarifa Patel, who lives in Newham, said: “Newham have always been pioneering to college age but when it comes to college they never thought about children going into mainstream.”
Patel, whose son has a hidden impairment and experienced the Newham education system, said: “We should be going forwards, not backwards. It’s morally wrong. We were the pioneers. Why can’t we be the pioneers in further education?”
Dr Ju Gosling, a leading disabled activist, who also lives in Newham, said she had “always been very proud of our record on inclusive education”.
But she said she had become “increasingly concerned about the reports from people with learning difficulties and their families about their experiences of segregation at Newham College”.
She warned that “taking young people who have been included in the mainstream from birth and isolating them from their peers at 16 sets them up for a lifetime of social exclusion”.
She added: “This is a retrograde step that will set us back decades, and people with learning difficulties and their families need everyone’s support to challenge it.”
Tara Flood, director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education, said: “How long have we all heard about Newham being at the absolute forefront of developing inclusive practice?
“I feel very sad at the potential for further education segregation when so much has been done in school inclusion.”
Newham council said in a statement: “This is a development in a mainstream college. It is in line with requirements from the Education Funding Agency. We remain committed to inclusive education.”
A spokesman added: “The limit of our involvement was that we were asked to support a funding bid, which we did.
“We want more young people with disabilities in Newham to be able to further their education and have the same opportunities as their peers. We believe Newham College’s plans meet that commitment and we fully support them.”
But the council has so far been unable to say whether it believes that the new facilities will be on their own floor, segregated from the rest of the college.
Janak Patel, the college’s deputy principal, said in a statement: “We educate students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities alongside other students but we also have specialist facilities that meet the specific needs of our students.
“The purpose of these improvements in our facilities is to ensure our students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities have the best resources available and in particular for students with autism.
“One of the aims of this project is to increase the number of students with autism who are educated at the college.”
The college declined to provide any details about its new development.