Mark Williams MP at a school in Tanzania as part of a delegation RESULTS organised in November 2013
Mark Williams MP at a school in Tanzania as part of a delegation RESULTS organised in November 2013

It’s been a great year for UK aid to education and support of children with disabilities. In June, DFID pledged up to £300 million to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) over the next four years, which RESULTS UK grassroots groups campaigned hard to deliver. Also in June, the government released its response to the International Development Select Committee’s report on Disability and Development, with largely positive overtones. The response included commitments to publishing a new ‘Disability Framework’ later this year, and that the UK will advocate globally for the “no one left behind” principle to be central to the new Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. These, among other notable steps mean the UK could potentially be poised to become a world leader on the inclusion of people with disabilities in aid and development programmes.

In continuation of this progress, this week in our capacity of providing the secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Education for All we supported the Chair of the APPG Mark Williams MP to table a debate in Parliament on this issue. Entitled ‘UK aid to education for children and young people with disabilities’, the debated offered an opportunity for cross-party discussion of DFID’s commitment to inclusive education and how to tackle the exclusion of children with disabilities from education in developing countries. You can watch the full debate here. Speakers included Mark Williams MP and David Blunkett MP, both of whom spoke with grassroots volunteers at the RESULTS UK National Conference, sharing their passion for global education for all. These speakers were joined by Pat Glass MP and Shadow Development Minister Alison McGovern MP, and the debate was answered by Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, Tom Brake MP.

The speakers continually cited four main areas that require DFID’s attention: data, DFID staff expertise, teacher training, and total inclusivity. The first of these issues relates to the need for comprehensive, disaggregated and current data on disability and education to develop DFID’s understanding of the challenges faced. Mark Williams MP described the lack of data as a “major barrier,” calling what little information exists often “speculative and out of date.” This in turn leads to a lack of international clarity and difficulty measuring outcomes. Pat Glass MP made the powerful statement in this last regard that “the bottom line is, what gets measured gets done.”

Alison McGovern MP raised the issue of DFID staff expertise on disability-inclusion at both the national and global level. Within DFID HQ, she noted that the commitment to hiring staff with expertise in disabilities extends only to two employees. As the International Development Committee pointed out, DFID Country Offices also often lack the capacity and expertise in inclusion. It is vital that DFID provides adequate training to staff on disability-inclusion, and exhibits an inclusive hiring policy.

In addition, DFID funds a significant amount of teacher-training in developing countries, and Mark Williams (himself a former teacher) urged the Government to make every effort to ensure that this training prepares teachers to take an inclusive approach and support the needs of children with disabilities. Too often, teachers are not adequately trained to work with students with disabilities, meaning these children’s needs are not met and they fall behind. It was recommended that DFID requires all training funded by them to promote an inclusive teaching approach.

Finally, though DFID’s progress on physical accessibility of schools they fund was highly commended, the need to think beyond bricks and mortar has become clear. Even if building conditions are met at the door, overcrowded classrooms and other barriers may still impede children’s ability to attend school. Children with disabilities in developing countries also frequently face severe stigma and marginalization in regards to their special needs. Mark Williams MP summarized this issue of total inclusivity eloquently, with the acknowledgement that “physical accessibility needs to be complimented by attitudinal change.

Send ALL My Friends to School report

Mark Williams MP and Tom Brake MP also made special reference to a campaign that RESULTS UK worked hard on earlier this year: Send ALL My Friends to School. This campaign, led by the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) UK coalition of NGOs saw over 500,000 young campaigners in UK schools show their support for inclusive education aid – a fantastic effort! GCE UK complemented this campaign by publishing an evaluation of UK aid to education to make recommendations on the need for children with disabilities to be a greater priority.

This debate comes at a crucial time for DFID’s work with disability and education, with the department’s new ‘Disability Framework’ due to be released on the 3rd of December (International Day of Persons with Disabilities). RESULTS UK, along with our NGO partners and the APPG on Global Education for All, have argued that education must be a priority sector within the framework, and that the framework must be strong, action-oriented and with clear timescales and accountability mechanisms to ensure it is implemented throughout DFID’s partner countries.

Though commendable progress has been made in recent years on drawing attention to children with disabilities and their right to education, millions of children with disabilities remain unable to enjoy this most basic human right. It is estimated that one in every three children out of school has a disability, and that in many countries they are more likely to be excluded from school than any other group of children. In Ethiopia for example, estimates suggest that 97% of children with disabilities have no access to primary education. As we near the end of the Millennium Development Goals and negotiations continue towards the Post-2015 goals to replace them, it is clear that universal access to good quality basic education cannot be achieved without significant and increased attention paid to children with disabilities. We need to keep up the pressure on DFID and other donors to ensure that overseas aid to education delivered support to the most marginalised, so that we can see a world where every child can fulfil their right to a good education.