Blackpool children with special needs are increasingly being “forced” out of mainstream education despite new legal protections, a disability charity has warned.
The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) accused the Government of an “on-going attack on disabled people’s rights to be included rather than segregated from society”.
And campaigners have accused schools of putting exam results and their reputations before the needs of disabled pupils.
But Blackpool Council has said the change in the numbers may be due in part to parental choice.
The number of children with special educational needs (SEN) in mainstream education has fallen by a quarter (24 per cent) in England since 2012, while the number attending special schools has risen by nearly a third (31 per cent), analysis by JPIMedia shows.
In Blackpool in 2012 there were 300 children in special schools in Blackpool. In 2019 that rose to 463 - a rise of 54.3 per cent, one of the highest rises in the country.
The number of primary school age children in mainstream schools with special educational needs fell from 2,835 in 2012 to 2,133 in 2018 - down from 24.8 per cent to 17.7 per cent.
In secondary schools there were 1,575 children with SEN in 2012 (20.2 per cent). In 2019 the figure is 1,182 (17.3 per cent).
This is despite the introduction of the Children and Families Act 2014, which states that children with SEN should usually be given a place in mainstream classes.
Simone Aspis, policy and campaigns coordinator at ALLFIE, said: “Parental choice is a myth – parents we know do not choose special school provision, they are forced into it because mainstream schools no longer have the money and support to implement inclusive education practice.”
She said the Government was dealing with a shortfall in SEN places by planning new special schools rather than funding better provision in mainstream education.”
The Department for Education said: “All schools must be inclusive of children with disabilities and 82 per cent of all pupils identified as having special educational needs are in state-funded mainstream schools.”
Coun Graham Cain, Blackpool Council Deputy Leader (Children), said: “The rates of children attending a special school have been increasing over time since 2014. This is a national issue and something that the Department for Education is looking to address.
“To some extent new legislation introduced that year required local authorities to accommodate parents’ or carers school preferences to a greater extent. These choices are reflected somewhat in the statistics.
“Here in Blackpool we believe that children should be educated in the school that at the time is relevant to their needs.
“We agree that more children in the longer terms should be educated in mainstream schools but this has to be in the right environment with the right support to meet that specific child’s needs. This is one of the council strategic priorities for children with Special Educational Needs."