Campaigners say they have “huge concerns” about how the new Academies Act will affect disabled pupils’ ability to obtain the specialist support they need.
The act, which received royal assent this week after being rushed through parliament, makes it easier for schools to become academies – publicly-funded independent schools that are free from council control.
Both peers and MPs repeatedly raised concerns in parliament about the impact of the act on pupils with special educational needs (SEN).
Ed Balls MP, the Labour leadership contender and shadow education secretary, said the government was “on a fast track to treat as second class the majority of children with special educational needs who will find their funding cut and their opportunities reduced by this legislation”.
And Labour MP Pat Glass said: “I do not believe that there has been any detailed analysis of [the bill’s] impact on vulnerable children, particularly those with special educational needs.”
MPs and peers said they feared pupils with SEN would find it hard to gain admission to academies, while parents would find it difficult to challenge academies that failed to meet their children’s support needs.
They also said pupils with SEN could be more likely to be excluded from academies than council-run schools.
A widely-welcomed amendment introduced by the disabled Labour peer Baroness Wilkins means councils will keep all the funding for support services for pupils with “low-incidence SEN”, rather than giving a share of the money to academies.
And the government said another amendment would impose on new academies “all the [SEN] obligations on admissions and exclusions that apply to [council-run] schools”.
But Tara Flood, chief executive of the Alliance for Inclusive Education, said: “Virtually no real attention has been given to what this [act] will mean for children and young people identified as having SEN.
“Given that local authorities will have potentially no role in supporting young people in academies – if they get in in the first place – how will academies access specialist services?”
She said ministers and civil servants had simply promised to “sort that out once the act has been passed”.
She added: “I think there might be an awful lot of parents out there who are very worried about the future inclusion of their young people now the role for local authorities has been removed from an increasing number of schools moving to academy status.”
She said she was also deeply concerned that parents of children with SEN who were excluded from an academy would now have to appeal to the secretary of state, rather than their local authority.
29 July 2010