Disabled campaigners have raised serious concerns about the impact of government plans to create more self-governing “academy” schools.
This week’s Queen’s speech included plans to allow new providers to run state schools, to allow more schools to become academies, and to give more freedom to teachers and headteachers.
Simone Aspis, campaigns and policy coordinator for the Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), said this could have a major impact on disabled children’s access to mainstream education, with less choice for parents.
And she said appealing against a decision to refuse a disabled child a school place could be harder for those seeking to attend academies.
Aspis said it was also not clear whether disabled children would have the same rights to secure special educational needs (SEN) support in academies, which could lead to a two-tier system.
Many of these fears also apply to government plans to allow parents, companies and other providers to set up so-called “free schools”, she said.
Aspis said there were positive elements of existing Labour legislation on academies, such as the duty to provide schooling to children of all abilities.
But ALLFIE fears the new plans will give more power to the education secretary, rather than LEAs. This is a major concern when the government has already pledged to “remove the bias towards inclusion” in disabled children’s education and “prevent the unnecessary closure of special schools”.
Aspis said: “I just think it’s going to make things a lot worse, with a lot less choice and a lot less clarity on how funding around support would be provided in these academies.”
Marie Pye, former head of public sector delivery at the Disability Rights Commission, and now a Labour local councillor in east London, was also worried about the impact of more academies.
She said: “Academies will be stand-alone businesses – they will do what they want.”
Pye said there would be concerns about access and how academies would support children with SEN, while schools would no longer be able to draw on the expertise of local authority access advisors.
Pye said these decisions would “force disabled children back into a ghetto”.
She added: “Your local school will just not be up to the mark and that really worries me.”
Inclusion London also raised concerns about the government’s education plans, which it said were “firmly against a more inclusive educational policy”.
It said the government’s academies bill could reinforce this approach, with the new schools outside local authority control and so having “broad discretion to determine their own procedures and curriculum”.
27 May 2010