Disabled peer secures victory over government on academy plans


A disabled peer has engineered a victory over the government in a Lords vote that could help guarantee the future of local authority support services for disabled pupils.

Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins was one of several disabled peers who raised serious concerns about the impact of the government’s new academies bill.

They say that because the bill will increase the number of academies – publicly-funded independent schools that are free from council control – it will also increase the drain of resources from local councils’ specialist support budgets.

Baroness Wilkins told fellow peers this week that a large increase in the number of academy schools would mean services for children with “low incidence” special educational needs (SEN) or impairments would become “untenable”.

She said the bill could mean that “large numbers of deaf and blind children and others with multi-sensory impairments” would not get the support they needed.

She moved an amendment that would allow councils to keep all of the funding for support services, rather than giving a share of that money to academies.

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson supported the amendment and said she had experienced a lack of funding for support when she was at school, and feared other disabled pupils would not receive the “rounded education that they all deserve” if changes were not made to the bill.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell also backed the amendment, and said she had met with two young disabled pupils who feared the impact the bill would have on the support they received.

A fourth disabled peer, Lord [Colin] Low, said the problem was “already serious” and “likely to grow”, with local authority budgets shrinking because of existing academies.

He said councils were the only realistic providers of such services, and added: “If the budget is removed from local authorities so that they cannot provide specialist services, there is the problem of knowing where academies will buy them in for their pupils from low incidence groups.”

Lord Hill, the Conservative junior education minister, said the government would work closely with local authorities, examine the funding of low-incidence SEN, and “monitor the impact of increasing numbers of academies on local authority sensory impairment services”.

But Baroness Wilkins said she was not reassured by his comments and asked for a vote on her amendment, which was passed by 193 to 171 votes.

The bill now passes to the Commons, with its second reading due on 19 July.

When asked whether the government would attempt to overturn the amendment in the Commons, a Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Ministers are now considering their options.”

14 July 2010


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