Latest Channel 4 News:
Row over Malaysian state's coins
'Four shot at abandoned mine shaft'
Rain fails to stop Moscow wildfires
Cancer blow for identical twins
Need for Afghan progress 'signs'

Cameron confronted on special needs policy

By Emma Thelwell

Updated on 27 April 2010

The father of a disabled boy confronts Conservative leader David Cameron and accuses him of seeking to segregate disabled children in special schools.

David Cameron is confronted by the parent of a disabled child on education policy (Reuters)

Jonathan Bartley said Tory policies would make it difficult for children with special needs to enter the mainstream state school system.

Mr Bartley, who is co-director of the Christian think tank Ekklesia, pointed out that while his heart "goes out" to Mr Cameron, who parented a disabled child, the Tory leader's son was not state educated.

"You didn't try to get your son into a mainstream school," said Mr Bartley, standing by his seven-year-old son Samuel, who has spinal bifida and uses a wheelchair.

Mr Bartley said he had battled for two years to get Samuel into a mainstream school, urging Cameron to "end the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools".

Cameron's son Ivan, who had severe epilepsy and cerebral palsy, died last year. The Tory leader, who had spent the morning delivering a speech on "broken Britain", insisted that he couldn't be "more passionate" about education for disabled children.

"I had a hell of a battle with my own son. We have got to get the children into the school they want, whether it is mainstream or whether it is special," he said.

"I want you to get what's right for your son. It should be your choice. You shouldn't have to battle," Mr Cameron added.

FactCheck unpicks the political facts
- Do Tories encourage special needs children in mainstream schools?

Mr Bartley, who has written commentary for The Guardian and The New Statesman, argued that the current education policy discouraged the inclusion of disabled children in state schools full of able-bodied children.

"It is the wrong way to go. You are not representing the needs of children in mainstream education. You want to segregate disabled children," he said.

"You talk about the broken society. It nearly broke up our family getting our son into school," he added.

A sympathetic Mr Cameron said: "I can tell you the battle I had. I know how much it rips families apart."

The Conservative manifesto reads: "We will end the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools."

But Mr Cameron insisted his manifesto would help fix the problems facing disabled children.

"I wrote it, sir," Mr Cameron said, adding "I absolutely promise you that I would never do anything to make it more difficult for children to go to a mainstream school."

The Conservatives maintain that the current system under Labour forces parents to opt for private schools over state, and says its manifesto focuses on providing a choice between state schools and special education.

In a further interview with Sky News, Mr Bartley conceded: "Labour haven't done well on this - this is not a party political issue".

Labour's manifesto says it has "high expectations" for children with special educational needs, and "schools will be held to account for how well they meet the needs of these pupils".

The party plans to give more support to parents and increase the supply of teachers with specialist skills to teach pupils with severe learning disabilities. 

Send this article by email

More on this story

Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Watch the Latest Channel 4 News

Watch Channel 4 News when you want

Latest Politics news

More News blogs

View RSS feed

Token candidate?

Labour leadership candidate Diane Abbott (credit:Getty Images)

Diane Abbott: I am the genuine move-on candidate for Labour

'Mr Ordinary'

Andy Burnham, Getty images

Andy Burnham targets Labour's 'ordinary' person.

Cartoon coalition


How Channel 4 News viewers picture the coalition in cartoon form

Blue blood

William IV and David Cameron (Credit: Getty)

A family affair? Who Knows Who: Cameron's royal links

FactCheck on Twitter


New on FactCheck: The cost of delaying a decision on Trident

Yesterday at 15:45

Follow us

The Freedom Files

Freedom Files

Revealed: the stories they didn't want to tell.

Making a FoI request?

Channel 4 News tells you how to unearth information.


See how many times a word is used in key speeches, and in what context.

Channel 4 © 2010. Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.