Major problems for children with special needs wanting places in Academies

Our major concern with the whole academy system is that in many cases academies are able to operate outside the laws that apply to all local authority schools. Although the Government has attempted to deal with this through the funding agreements they have with the new academies, there are still a considerable number of these schools which do not follow all the requirements which normally apply to children with special educational needs.

We have recently been instructed in a groundbreaking case on how far academies can be made to comply with the special needs legislation which applies to other non-fee paying schools.

Mossbourne Academy, one of the Government's flagship schools, has recently rejected applications from a number of children with special needs and refused to accept that the Special Educational Needs Tribunal should hear the case, as they claim they are not governed by the legislation but their own funding agreement with the Secretary of State.

In our case, we are acting for the parents of an extremely gifted 11 year old boy with cerebral palsy. This really only affects his ability to get around school at busy times as he can walk but is not always steady on his feet. The only real additional provision he needs is a bit of support during these times to make sure he is safe, and as he has already obtained an A* in Maths GCSE at the age of 11, he certainly has no problem keeping up with lessons, although he will also need appropriate IT which his parents have offered to provide.

Despite the fact that he will need no more support than most children in the school, and probably less than many with educational needs and behavioural problems, the school has refused to offer him a place on the grounds that his admission "would be incompatible with the efficient education of other children in the school". It is difficult to see why this particular disabled boy who has worked hard to do his best could be anything other than an asset to the school. However, we suspect that this is a general approach being adopted by Mossbourne who have similarly refused to take other children with statements of special educational needs, and indeed, through the local Learning Trust for Hackney, applied to have their appeals struck out on the basis that the Tribunal has no jurisdiction over this particular academy and may not over academies generally. The other cases will not continue until a decision is reached in this case.

What is particularly difficult in this case is that the parents are not allowed to appeal against the school admission process as their son has a statement which means the school he attends should be decided by the Special Educational Needs Tribunal. At the same time they have tried to ensure that the Tribunal is also not able to hear the case, leaving disabled children with statements in a worse position than anyone else if they want a place at an Academy.

We are keen to hear from any parents who are also facing difficulties in getting Academy schools to accept their statemented children as it is really important that the law is clarified.


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