To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent assessment he has made of the implications for his Department's obligations under Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of the free school programme; and how many special schools have opened under that programme.
Our ambition for children with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities is exactly the same as it is for all children – we want them to be able to do their best in school and reach their potential, including in free schools.
As part of our commitments under the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, we are committed to inclusive education of disabled children and the progressive removal of barriers to learning and participation in mainstream education. The Children and Families Act 2014 secures the general presumption in law of mainstream education in relation to decisions about where children with SEN should be educated; and the Equality Act 2010 provides protection from disability discrimination. The SEN system rightly places considerable weight on the views of parents as to where a child with complex needs should be educated. While many parents of disabled children choose mainstream education, others will want a specialist setting. Some children have complex SEN that mean that the best educational experience for them is in a school that specialises in meeting those needs. For them, a special school is a positive choice.
We have opened new special schools through the free schools programme: as of 1 January 2019, there are 34 open special free schools, and a further 55 special free schools have been approved to open in the future.