The government has agreed to do more to ensure that academy schools set up under proposed new laws will have to match existing obligations to pupils with special educational needs (SEN).
The pledge came after concerns raised by the disabled peer Lord [Colin] Low, which received widespread backing from fellow peers during the committee stage of the academies bill.
Lord Low said that, despite previous government commitments, there were still areas that were unclear and gaps that “need to be plugged” in the SEN obligations of academies – independent schools that receive government funding.
He called for “further assurance” that the academies expansion programme would not lead to a “weakening of the requirements that govern SEN provision in schools”.
He said he been told of cases heard by the SEN and disability tribunal which showed existing academies were “driving a coach and horses” through their SEN obligations.
Lord Low said there was also “room for real concern” that a local authority’s ability to arrange SEN provision “will be hampered by the independent status of academies”.
The Bishop of Lincoln added: “There are some issues where it is too risky to leave matters simply to good will or mutual understanding, and special educational needs is one of them.
“We need to ask the minister if he will look at ways in which that dimension of academy life can be secured clearly in the bill.”
Lord Hill, the Conservative junior education minister, laid out a number of measures that would ensure academies met their SEN obligations.
But he pledged to “think about how best to achieve parity” between the SEN obligations of academies and those of maintained schools – those funded by local education authorities – and said he would produce new proposals at the bill’s next stage in the Lords.
24 June 2010