One reason why I have always opposed the idea of "independent" state schools is because the rights of pupils , parents and teachers are not the same as those enjoyed by the same groups in the maintained sector ( parents and governors in converting schools take note).
This story in today's Guardian
points to how that is starting to effect some of our most vulnerable children - those with Special Education Needs. In the case highlighted by this story, Mossbourne Community Academy ( one of the most celebrated and highly publicised independent state schools) has deftly used its independent status to avoid taking in a child with cerebral palsy . The parent had applied to SENDIST - the SEN tribunal - after the school refused to let the parents name Mossbourne on his statement. But the tribunal struck out the appeal on the grounds that the school is not governed by law that binds all maintained schools because it is independent and therefore only governed by its funding agreement with the Secretary of State.
For a more details explanation of the legal problem here - see lawyer David Wolfe's excellent blog
on his website A Can of Worms
, which regularly shines a light on the murky freedoms over half our secondary schools now enjoy.
Wolfe writes: "In summary, the judge decided to strike out the appeal on the basis that, even if the Tribunal was to uphold the appeal (and order the LA to name the academy in Part 4 of the child’s statement) the child/parent would not be able to force the academy to admit, such that the appeal had no prospects of success. (That’s the same thinking which leads the Tribunal to refuse to hear appeals where what the parent is seeking is anvbindependent school
which is refusing to agree to being named.)"
During the passage of the Academies Act in 2010, ministers assured MPs and Peers that there would be parity between independent and maintained school on the SEN issue. This is clearly not the case and as we have already pointed out on this site, academies and free schools also have the freedom seek a variation to their funding agreements that would also relieve them of their obligation to abide by the School Admissions Code.
One would have thought that David Cameron, as a parent of a child with SEN, would want to rectify this situation as soon as possible. I suspect it may be harder to do than anyone realises. Even if they manage to close this loophole in the law, ensuring that academies comply with the responsibilities they have relies on parents complaining or seeking legal action which many are loathe to do.
If people don't complain, academy schools will be able to get away with cutting corners and manipulating their intakes via admissions and exclusions. The schools that will have to pick up the pieces will be the local maintained schools whose successes in performance compared to academies
, seems even more admirable given they are not competing on a level playing field.