A flagship government policy to expand the number of academies and set up new “free schools” will damage the education chances of disabled pupils, according to delegates at the Liberal Democrat conference.
A succession of party members raised concerns that the new academies and free schools that will be set up as a result of the coalition government’s Academies Act could damage support for disabled children and those with special educational needs (SEN).
And they said they feared the impact on disabled children of local authorities losing responsibility for ensuring fair admissions and exclusions policies in the new schools.
They also criticised the decision to hand responsibility for overseeing the new schools to a quango, the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) which only launched in April.
Kath Pinnock, a local councillor in Kirklees, where there are moves to set up a free school, told the conference in Liverpool that setting up such schools “takes funding from SEN” and from local authorities, and warned that the new schools would not accept children with SEN.
Pash Nandhra, a teacher, told the conference that there was a “large chunk” of students who needed support and a “huge department” of learning support staff in every school.
She added: “It seems from the academies and free schools that there is no provision for that. They haven’t given it a thought.
“Are they going to dump them onto the other schools or are they going to segregate and take the best ones?”
Former Lib Dem MP Evan Harris said he was concerned about the exclusions policies of the new schools, and added: “We are concerned about the risk of it damaging SEN provision.
“The reason we feel so strongly about having local authority control of admissions is we do not want admissions procedures to be more unfair. I thought fairness was something we cared about at local level and parliament.”
After the debate, the Lib Dem peer Baroness [Shirley] Williams, told Disability News Service that she was concerned that academies would be reluctant to take on pupils with SEN because of the impact on their academic results.
And she said that the mechanism for oversight of the new schools – through the YPLA – was “extremely weak”.
The Alliance for Inclusive Education said after the act received royal assent in July that “virtually no real attention” had been given to what the act would mean for children and young people identified as having SEN.
21 September 2010