|The Alliance for Inclusive Education – our position on Academies and Free Schools
The Coalition Government wants all schools to become academies, including primary and special schools, as part of what they call an "education revolution". ALLFIE believes it is important to have a position on this new breed of schools and what this means for the inclusion of disabled learners.
Academies (including Free Schools) are publicly-funded independent schools. Free Schools are established as academies, but the Free schools programme allows parents, teachers and others the chance to set up a new school if, for example, they are unhappy with state schools in a particular local area or that parents believe there aren’t enough places or the correct provision for their child locally.
After much discussion ALLFIE and our networks have decided to separate the theory behind the creation of Academies from the day to day practicalities of the Academies programme.
ALLFIE is opposed to the extension of the Academies programme to include the creation of Special Academies/Free schools. Evidence shows that academies are already three times more likely to exclude disabled children and young people and those young people with SEN labels. A new wave of Special Academies/Free schools can only lead to even more disabled children and young people and those young people with SEN labels being forced out of mainstream education and into a variety of new segregated provision. Particularly as there is no guarantee that local authorities will retain their central funding for SEN services after 2013.
The lack of accountability of Academies and Free Schools is a serious concern as without the need to follow a national curriculum, together with the possibility of employing unqualified teachers and the lack of an OFSTED inspection in ‘Outstanding’ schools, the door is opened to enable Free school’s to encourage, overtly or covertly, more division in society through exclusion of disabled pupils (either from parts of the curriculum or from the school as whole).
It is ALLFIE’s view that the creation of Academies and Free schools has caused fragmentation, and financially drained the current mainstream education system, which will negatively impact on existing and future development of inclusive education practice. Inclusive education is dependent on a state funded comprehensive education system with schools, colleges, universities and lifelong learning settings that are welcoming of all learners and fully accountable to the community.
ALLFIE considers the Government plans to transform the education sector into pseudo-private schools with little or no local accountability, to be in breach of its Article 24 obligations in the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Practically, and as a solution focused campaigns network, ALLFIE will focus on encouraging existing and new Academies to demonstrate a commitment to delivering and promoting inclusion good practice. ALLFIE also encourages those groups of parents or professionals that are planning to set up a Free school, to work with us to ensure that the school has a truly inclusive ethos and will truly welcome a diversity of learners.
Anything less will create a permanent and highly damaging division in the education system which will lead to greater numbers of young disabled learners being segregated from their communities, a further restriction on their life chances and a denial of the fundamental human right to an education that is inclusive.
Inclusion isn’t sometimes – Inclusion means always!
Academies – how are they different:
Academies receive the same level of per-pupil funding as they would receive from the local authority as a maintained school, plus additions to cover the services that are no longer provided for them by the local authority. Academies can choose how they use their budgets. Academies receive their funding directly from the Education Funding Agency (EFA) rather than from local authorities.
Local Authority budgets for SEN services (e.g. Speech & Language, Physio, Education Psychologists) be exempt from the current academy recoupment process. This means local authorities still retain their central funding for SEN services no matter how many academies they have in their area. However this guarantee is only for this coming year (2012 – 2013) before a new arrangement is brought in.
How accountable are Academies?
They are subject to inspections by Ofsted, like other schools. However, a substantial chunk of new converters will be ‘outstanding’ schools - which will no longer be subject to routine inspections under separate changes made to the education inspection regime.
Opponents of the policy argue they are less accountable than other state schools, because they are not overseen by the elected local authority leaders – in theory Academies are accountable to the Secretary of State for Education.
Admissions, special educational needs and exclusions
Academies are required to follow the law and codes and guidance on admissions, special educational needs and exclusions as if they were maintained schools. SEN obligations are included in the Funding Agreements of Academies created after the Academies Act 2010. Academy funding agreements prior to the Act are much weaker and talk about ‘best endeavors’ to provide for SEN support.
Academies must consent to be named in a SEN Statement but can challenge the decision using the ‘incompatibility test – incompatible with provision of efficient education for other children and where no reasonable steps may be made to secure compatibility’. The right to appeal for families is to the Secretary of State for Education. The Secretary of State’s decision can be overturned by a Tribunal
There is growing evidence that Academies are not abiding by their legal duties in terms of SEN and/or Equalities law. Figures released by the Department for Education show that academies permanently exclude twice as many pupils than local authority schools.
Academies appear to use obvious and not so obvious means to find ways to remove disabled pupils and those pupils with SEN. Examples of this, include a young disabled girl in south east London who was refused admission to a Harris Academy because she would get in the way of other students and more recently a disabled boy who has been refused admission to the Mossbourne Academy in Hackney because his admission “would be incompatible with the efficient education of other pupils”.
Academies - a threat to Inclusion because:
The disconnection between Academies and Local Authorities means no local statutory pressure can be put on Academies to meet their SEN/Equality Act obligations
Special Academies will only increase the opportunities to segregate disabled learners
Disabled learners without statements (or the new Education Health & Care Plan) will have less legal protections in terms of admissions, exclusions and support for learning
The onus is still on the family to seek legal redress if an Academy refuses to admit a disabled pupil/pupil with SEN. There is no independent route for legal redress for ‘looked after’ children
Date: December 2012