Government is failing on education a€“ time for councils to take control

Government is failing on education a€“ time for councils to take control

guardian.co.uk

A child alone in a school playground

Is it time for local government to go it alone on school reform? Photograph: Alamy

In January this column highlighted the urgency of local governmentredefining its role in light of the government’s school reforms. Over the past two years perceptions of the academy movement have shifted.

When, under Labour, about 200 of the poorest performing schools were given academy status, it was seen as freeing them from local government control. Now the number is climbing past 1,600, it looks like a school system that is simultaneously fragmenting and being centralised under the increasingly interventionist education secretary Michael Gove.

Whichever one of these contradictory descriptions you think fits, it is clear that accountability to local communities is being rapidly eroded.

The debate has been complicated by the proposal from Ofsted chief inspector Michael Wilshaw of a network of local commissioners, separate from local government, to identify poorly performing academies that should be stripped of their status or have their headteacher replaced.

Councils still have important statutory education functions on issues such as performance and standards, safeguarding, planning and provision of places and Special Educational Needs, although the boundaries of their responsibilities or their power to act are often unclear. For example, councils have little power to intervene in a failing academy or free school, and while they have the responsibility to ensure there are sufficient places, the current bulge in the number of pupils is exposing severe limitations to their ability to do this.

The balancing act for councils is to define a role that respects and promotes schools’ autonomy while acting as the champion of children and parents – unlike the bad old days when a small minority of councils seemed to champion bad teachers and poor schools.

Both Solace and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services have recently spoken out in this debate. In Filling the gap: the championing role of English councils in education, Solace calls for the government to work with councils, academy sponsors and others to agree a national protocol for monitoring and intervening in failing schools. These would be backed up by local agreements on cooperation, support and intervention.

The emphasis of the proposals is on fostering mutual support between schools, with agreed measures for benchmarking performance and ready access to improvement support. In all this the council’s role would be to give voice to parents and children, particularly the most vulnerable – so there would be a strong focus on safeguarding.

From the schools’ point of view, this would balance increased local co-operation with less control by the Department for Education. The mutual support and local monitoring would also act as a welcome antidote to the peculiar terror that seems to seize schools at the mention of Ofsted.

A particular appeal of Solace’s approach is that it would strengthen councils’ work on both health and economic growth. The relationship with schools would support the health and wellbeing board and the new public health teams in co-ordinating activity around the pressing priority of teenage sexual health.

On the economy, local government can exploit its unique ability to broker relationships with local partners to champion lifelong learning – promoting the opportunities and bringing together employers with education and training providers to meet the needs of the local jobs market and tackle unemployment.

In the context of stalled economic growth and the growing scandal around A4e and the government’s welfare-to-work scheme, local government should push hard on this– the Made in Whitehall interventions of the Department for Work and Pensions are failing.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services has been developing similar ideas, describing local government (possibly unwisely) as the “missing link” in school improvement.

Education is one of the few policy areas where Labour has had the courage to commit some of its thoughts to paper, inDevolving Power in Education by shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg. He talks of “a strong role for local government” but then describes a “middle tier” without definitively linking the two.

Local government should point him in the direction of Solace’s paper, while spelling out to ministers how councils can play a bigger role in education, the economy and health without threatening schools’ autonomy.

Student Loans boss to stand down

Student Loans boss to stand down

BBC |May 25, 2012

The chief executive of the Student Loans Company, who attracted controversy over his tax arrangements, is to stand down.

The publicly-funded body says Ed Lester will leave his£182,000 post when his contract expires early next year.

Until February, Mr Lester received his pay package without deductions for tax or National Insurance.

An outcry over the arrangements led to a review of public sector pay.

The review identified more than 2,400 cases of public sector staff being employed indirectly rather than having tax deducted at source through PAYE.

Recruitment under waySince January, 350 such contracts have been ended and tighter rules have now been introduced.

Mr Lester’s salary arrangements had been agreed by the tax authorities and the government. He was paid gross through his private service company based at his home address.

A spokeswoman for the Student Loans Company (SLC) said: “Ed Lester has always made it clear that he would be leaving the Student Loans Company when his contract expired in January 2013.

“He accepted the position as permanent Chief Executive and Accounting Officer on a two year contract on 1 February 2011.”

Mr Lester would not be commenting, the SLC said, and his replacement would be paid through PAYE, as Mr Lester had been since February.

The arrangement for Mr Lester’s pay was disclosed in an HM Revenue and Customs letter obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Exaro News and BBC Newsnight.

Following the revelations, Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander said the way in which Mr Lester received his salary would be changed and launched a review of similar arrangements across Whitehall.

Each government department has now published a list of “off payroll” appointees earning more than £58,200.

Mr Alexander also announced a consultation on a new law to require any person in control of an organisation, in the public or private sector, to be on its payroll.

Michael Gove criticises ‘bizarre’ Jewish exam question

Michael Gove criticises ‘bizarre’ Jewish exam question

guardian.co.uk |by Peter Walker

  • Peter Walker
  • guardian.co.uk, Friday 25 May 2012 13.38 EDT
Michael Gove GCSE

Michael Gove said the exam question asking examinees to explain possible reasons for prejudice against Jews was ‘bizarre’. Photograph: Chris Ison/PA

The education secretary, Michael Gove, has described as “bizarre” a GCSE exam question that asked students to explain the possible reasons behind prejudice against Jewish people.

The religious studies paper, which was sat by more than 1,000 students last week, including some at JFS, a leading Jewish secondary school in north London, read: “Explain, briefly, why some people are prejudiced against Jews.”

Gove said he did not understand why the exam board concerned,the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), England’s biggest, had set such a question. He said: “To suggest that antisemitism can ever be explained, rather than condemned, is insensitive and, frankly, bizarre. AQA needs to explain how and why this question was included in an exam paper.”

It was, Gove added, “the duty of politicians to fight prejudice, and with antisemitism on the rise, we need to be especially vigilant”.

Jon Benjamin, who heads the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told the Jewish Chronicle, which carried the initial story about the exam question: “Clearly this is unacceptable and has nothing whatsoever to do with Jews or Judaism. We will be taking it up with the examination board and it seems to me that it is also something to raise with the Department of Education, with which we are meeting anyway to discuss antisemitism in schools.”

A spokeswoman for AQA, which awards almost half of England’sGCSEs, said there was never any intention to justify prejudice. She said: “In many exam questions ‘explain’ is used to mean ‘give an account of’. For example, in the past we have asked students to explain why some people commit crimes, but we have not intended to suggest that we condone criminal activity.

“The question concerned acknowledges that some people are prejudiced, but we did not intend to imply in any way that prejudice is justified.” She added: “The board is obviously concerned that this question may have caused offence, as this was absolutely not our intention.”

According to AQA the question related to part of the religious studies syllabus covering “prejudice and discrimination with reference to race, religion and the Jewish experience of persecution”. Students would be expected to refer to the Holocaust “to illustrate prejudice based on irrational fear, ignorance and scapegoating,” the spokeswoman said.

The lead examiner for the religious studies exam paper had looked over the answers “and has found that students have understood the question in the sense that was intended”, she added.

The board was backed by Clive Lawton, formerly chief examiner for A-level religious studies papers set by another board. He told the Jewish Chronicle: “I do understand why people might react negatively to the question, but it is a legitimate one. Part of the syllabus is that children must study the causes and origins of prejudice against Jews.”

Phew! We don’t need to worry about egalitarianism any more, apparently

Phew! We don’t need to worry about egalitarianism any more, apparently

guardian.co.uk

  • Ian Jack
  • guardian.co.uk, Friday 25 May 2012 17.30 EDT
neil from 56 up ages 14 in 1971

Social mobility can be down as well as up, as it was for middle-class Neil, pictured here aged 14, whose ups and downs have been chronicled in ITV’s 56 Up

According to a speech made this week by the deputy prime minister, there are “few more powerful illustrations of just how divided our society can be” than the continuing Up series of television documentaries, which began in 1964 with Seven Up! and has revisited its participants once every seven years since. “What hits you hardest”, Nick Clegg went on, “is that in the half-century since the series began, little has changed. Our society is still too closed, too static. A society that still says where you are born, and who you are born to, matters for the rest of your life.”

Up to a point. What hit me hardest about Monday’s episode of 56 Up, the second of three, was its disappointing compression: too much was squeezed into too little time, with too much left unsaid. Britain may have some of the lowest levels of social mobility in the developed world, as measured by OECD figures that show an individual’s earnings in the UK are more likely to reflect his or her father’s than in than any other country, but on the evidence of the Up series so far, it would be hard to conclude that Britain’s class divisions are set in concrete. That was the point makers of the original programme hoped to make when they dispatched two researchers across England to find seven-year-olds who might vividly represent class difference. But as the series went on, that sociological and political intention got lost in the interestingness of 14 unfolding lives.

“Why do we bring these children together?” says a long-ago voice on the original commentary. “Because we want to get a glimpse of England in the year 2000. The union leader and the business executive of the year 2000 are now seven years old.” But nobody in the series has become an executive or a union leader, and the notion that these two categories represent opposing ends of the social spectrum looks hopelessly antique: Peter Sellers versus Dennis Price in I’m All Right Jack; the overall versus the suit; the canteen versus the staff restaurant. And all this imagery dependent on manufacturing processes that a Granada producer in Manchester could sniff if he opened a window.

The world turned out to have less predictable patterns. Of the three working-class girls from London, Sue is a university administrator and Lynn a librarian, while their friend Jackie, who has rheumatoid arthritis, can find no paid work in her adopted town of Motherwell. Tony, another Londoner, became first a jockey and then a taxi driver and now has homes in Essex and Spain. Paul, one of two boys first seen in a children’s home, helps his wife run an old people’s home in Australia. The other boy, Symon, drives a forklift truck.

As for the middle-class contingent, we find that Nick, the Yorkshire farmer’s son, is a professor of electrical engineering in Wisconsin, while two boys from the Liverpool suburbs, Neil and Peter, are respectively a civil servant and a Lib Dem councillor in Cumbria, living frugally on his councillor’s allowance. That leaves a group of five, whose voices and private schooling marked them out as upper middle class, or perhaps (bring on Henry Higgins) the lower reaches of the upper class. Suzy married a prosperous lawyer, Rupert, and so far as we can tell, lives happily with her family in a house with a tennis court. One boy dropped out of the series after 1977. The remaining three, to be seen in Monday’s third episode, went to Oxbridge. Two became lawyers. The third, Bruce, taught in Bangladesh and east London before he joined the staff of a public school in Hertfordshire.

Perhaps because these films began in a more courteous time and quickly became studies of personal history rather than an inquiry into social class, they contain few statistics. We don’t know what people earn or the worth of their houses, if they own one. It’s reasonable to suppose that all those who got divorced would be richer if they’d stayed married, and that Jackie, anxious about her disability benefit, is the least well off. But what about the social mobility that in Clegg’s words is “the central social preoccupation of the coalition government”? It isn’t entirely absent. From the outside, it looks as if taxi driver Tony and university administrator Sue have climbed furthest, while middle-class Neil, who had a breakdown and spent time on the road, fell lowest. At least in financial terms, the traffic between middle and working class has been reasonably down as well as up.

Those who look most impregnable – most immune to downward movement – come from the highest layer. What puts them there? A certain kind of education – Clegg’s kind – is at least part of the answer. Is there room for more on top? Clegg believes so, and not only more but better and brighter. Through targeted educational spending and monitoring instruments, such as the amazingly named Social Mobility Sector Transparency Board, Clegg hopes to send more children from poor families up the ladder to the top universities (at Oxbridge, only one in 100 students have taken free school meals, compared to the one in five pupils who take them at school). Achieving greater social mobility, we need to understand, has little to do with increasing social equality. A conference held by the Sutton Trust, which Clegg was addressing, unveiled research that showed how poor children in Australia and Canada stand a better chance of moving up than those in the UK and US, though the gaps between rich and poor are broadly similar in all four countries.

Phew! No inconvenient need to worry about egalitarianism! Or, as Clegg put it: “Of course, reducing inequality is a good and laudable aim. But unfortunately, it’s not the straightforward route to social mobility that its proponents suggest. In many ways, I wish it was. Life would be much simpler. Our goal would be clear: redistribution of income would do the job.” (The “I wish it was” is delicious.)

Sir Alec Douglas-Home was prime minister when Seven Up! was first broadcast. An old Etonian, he had disclaimed his earldom the previous year to fight the by-election that got him into the Commons. Harold Wilson mocked him as an “elegant anachronism”.Still, the income ratios between rich and poor were closer then, and if social mobility was what you wanted, grammar schools were there to provide it. You went nervously into a classroom one day– so much depended on the outcome – and sat the 11-plus (in Scotland “the quali” or qualifying exam) and if you had enough right answers, you joined the academic elect. It was divisive and hideously unfair, but almost certainly less so than any future selection for advancement towards the holy grail of the Russell Group aided by the likes of the Social Mobility Sector Transparency Board. Social mobility being in such demand, the puzzle is the coalition’s refusal to reintroduce grammar schools to every corner of the country. Their blazers could have badges with the motto“Liberty, Mobility, No Equality”.

Two Basildon academies placed into special measures

Two Basildon academies placed into special measures

BBC |May 24, 2012

Two academy schools in Essex are to be placed into special measures, as they are failing to give “an acceptable standard of education”.

An Ofsted report said The Basildon Upper and Lower Academies, which opened in 2009, were both inadequate in all five areas of inspection.

It said whilst some radical steps had been taken, they were not showing “sufficient capacity to improve”.

The academy trust has yet to comment on the report.

The two schools are part of the Basildon Academies Trust, which replaced the old Chalvedon and Barstable schools.

They share the same principal, who has been in place since last September.

‘Well below average’In its report of an inspection in March, Ofsted graded both as“inadequate” for pupils’ achievement, behaviour and safety, the quality of teaching and leadership and management.

It said attainment at the Basildon Lower Academy, for pupils between 11 and 14, was “consistently well below average” and students’ behaviour was “not managed consistently”.

The report added whilst steps had been taken since September 2011 to improve teaching standards, its “vision to improve practice” was “not fully shared and understood by all staff”.

The Ofsted report on the Basildon Upper Academy, for 14 to 19 year-olds, said improvements made since a previous report in March 2011 – which had raised “serious concerns” – were fragile.

Despite some progress over the past two years, it found there was a “considerable variation in the quality of teaching”,attainment remained low and students’ progress was inadequate.

As academies the schools are not under Essex County Council control.

The authority said it was “aware of the issues” but had limited powers to intervene.

Sats test scoring angers school head teachers

Sats test scoring angers school head teachers

BBC |May 23, 2012

By Angela Harrison Education correspondent, BBC News
_

Head teachers in England have criticised arrangements for scoring this year’s Sats tests taken by 11-year-olds.

The National Association of Head Teachers says this year’s primary school league tables will be based on “a flawed statistical model”.

The government says this year’s results will be robust but are only an interim arrangement ahead of wider changes.

It is changing the Sats system after a review by Lord Bew.

Last week, 10- and 11-year-olds in England took Sats papers in English and maths, the results of which are used to compile the primary school league tables.

For the first time, the writing element of the English paper is being assessed by teachers throughout the year – and not just on the basis of a standard test.

This was a change recommended by Lord Bew and supported by teachers and heads.

The government has just announced the details of how the English Sats will be scored for this year and published guidanceon this.

In the past, parents have been given an overall grade – or level – for their children’s English Sats. The national target is for children to reach Level Four.

But this year, because of the changes coming in, parents will be given separate ratings for their child’s written work and their ability in reading, but not an overall grade combing the two scores.

They will be given these ratings by schools in July.

‘Disappointing’

What head teachers are unhappy about is that for this year’s league tables, due later in the year, the government will add together the two scores to give an overall grade for a child.

In essence, they say it is not statistically sound to do this because one score will be based on something that has been measured precisely (the reading test) and something that has been assessed“qualitatively” – the written work done throughout the year.

Kathryn James, director of policy for the NAHT, said: “To say that the NAHT is concerned and disappointed with the education department’s guidance on how the overall English score will be calculated this year is something of an understatement.

“We believe this guidance is built on a flawed statistical model which we have flagged up to the government. It is also disappointing that it has taken the department almost a year to produce its guidance, despite reminders from the NAHT.”

Many of the association’s heads joined teachers in a boycott of the Sats tests two years ago, complaining that they were an unreliable indicator of children’s performance and that the league tables damaged learning by encouraging teachers to follow a narrow curriculum by “teaching to the test”.

On coming to power, the coalition government commissioned a review of the tests by Lord Bew, and last year agreed to bring in his recommendations.

These included greater use of teacher assessment and the introduction of a new distinct test of spelling and grammar which is being piloted this year.

The changes should be in place for next year.

‘Useful information’

The government says the method being used to compile this year’s league tables is the best that can be achieved and is an interim measure.

It says the methodology will go through “a further quality assurance process” once the test results have been published in July and before the publication of national results and school performance tables.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said schools were being given guidance and factsheets to help them explain the changes to parents.

He said: “We asked Lord Bew to review the Key Stage 2 testing, assessment and accountability system and make recommendations on how it could be improved, particularly in light of the concerns of head teachers and teachers. We remain absolutely committed to taking those recommendations forward.

“An overall English result has been part of the school level accountability system for many years and Lord Bew underlined its importance.

“For this year’s interim assessment arrangements, we are using the most appropriate methodology available to calculate an overall English result. Parents will receive separate reading and writing results for their child so they have the most useful information.”

Google funds computer teachers and Raspberry Pis in England

Google funds computer teachers and Raspberry Pis in England

BBC |May 23, 2012

Eric Schmidt
Mr Schmidt made headlines when he criticised UK computing classes

Dozens of teachers specialising in computer science are to work in English schools thanks to a partnership between Google and the charity Teach First.

Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt said money would also be provided to buy “teaching aids, such as Raspberry Pi’s or Arduino starter kits”.

He said that without investment in the subject, the UK risked“losing a generation” of scientists.

Mr Schmidt had previously criticised the country’s ICT curriculum.

He had said the UK was “throwing away [its] great computing heritage” by focusing on using software rather than how it was made.

The comments, delivered last August at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, prompted education secretary Michael Gove to revamp the curriculum to incorporate programming and other tech skills.

Teach FirstSpeaking on Wednesday at London’s Science Museum, Mr Schmidt outlined further plans: “Put simply, technology breakthroughs can’t happen without the scientists and engineers to make them. The challenge that society faces is to equip enough people, with the right skills and mindset, and to get them to work on the most important problems.”

Despite acknowledging progress, he described computer science education in the UK as still being in a “sorry state”.

He announced that Google would provide the funds to support Teach First – a charity which puts “exceptional” graduates on a six-week training programme before deploying them to schools where they teach classes over a two-year period.

Many stay on beyond that term while others pursue places at leading businesses associated with the programme.

At present the scheme is limited to seven regions of England: East Midlands; Kent and Medway; London; North East; North West; West Midlands; and Yorkshire and Humber.

Mr Schmidt said the donation would be used to train “more than 100 first rate science teachers over the next three years, with the majority focused on computer science”.

Rebooting computingHe said that he hoped up to 20,000 students would benefit in“disadvantaged communities”.

“It’s vital to expose kids to this early if they’re to have the chance of a career in computing,” Mr Schmidt added.

“Only 2% of Google engineers say they weren’t exposed to computer science at high school.

“While not every child is going to become a programmer, those with aptitude shouldn’t be denied the chance.”

Each of the 100 teachers will have a small bursary to buy equipment relating to their teaching. The Raspberry Pi, a low-cost computer designed in the UK, will be used in the scheme.

“The success of the BBC Micro in the 1980s shows what’s possible. There’s no reason why Raspberry Pi shouldn’t have the same impact, with the right support,” Mr Schmidt said.

Turing anniversaryGoogle has also sponsored a new exhibition at London’s Science Museum showcasing the life and career of Alan Turing.

It is due to open next month to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the computer pioneer’s birth.

In 2014, the museum will open a new gallery, also funded by Google, showcasing modern communications.

Mr Schmidt said he hopes such exhibits can equate to an image change for engineering.

“Rebooting computer science education is not straightforward.

“Scrapping the existing curriculum was a good first step – the equivalent of pulling the plug out of the wall. The question is now how to power up.”

Most schools miss out on privately financed renovation programme

Most schools miss out on privately financed renovation programme

guardian.co.uk |by Jeevan Vasagar

  • Jeevan Vasagar, education editor
  • guardian.co.uk, Thursday 24 May 2012 09.56 EDT
Michael Gove

The education secretary, Michael Gove, said 261 schools out of 587 that applied would be included in the£2bn PFI scheme. Photograph: Olivia Harris/Reuters

Fewer than half of the schools that applied for renovation under the government’s privately financed school building programme have been successful, it has been announced.

The education secretary, Michael Gove, said just 261 schools out of 587 that applied would be rebuilt or refurbished under the £2bn PFI scheme, despite widespread concern about the state of school buildings.

A survey for the Observer revealed 39% of headteachers believed their school buildings were not fit for purpose, with complaints of overcrowding, leaking ceilings and poor ventilation.

Gove admitted the manner in which he cancelled Labour’s mammoth school building programme had been “clumsy and insensitive”. Within weeks of coming to power, the coalition scrapped the £55bn Building Schools for the Future project, saying it was wasteful and bureaucratic.

More than 700 school building projects were cancelled and Gove was forced to apologise after errors on a list of affected projects meant some schools thought their building work was going ahead when it had in fact been halted.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One on Thursday, Gove said: “I think it was necessary to stop the Building Schools for the Future programme because it wasn’t efficient, even if the way I made the announcement was clumsy… it was insensitive, and more than that, it left people in a state of uncertainty because they were led to believe by the previous government that schools desperately needed to be rebuilt and were left high and dry.”

The government announced the scheme to rebuild the most dilapidated schools, the Priority School Building Programme, last July. The deadline for applications was mid-October.

The announcement of successful bids has been delayed for months, while a baby boom has put intense pressure on space in primary schools. An east London council is drawing up plans to convert an empty Woolworths store into a classroom and teach children in two shifts as part of emergency measures to cope with the rising number of primary age pupils.

In a statement, Gove said rebuilding work would begin immediately and the new schools would be open in 2014.

“I recognise many of the schools that applied and have been unsuccessful will also have significant needs. Some will have their needs addressed through other funding we have made available for maintenance,” he said.

The government has commissioned a survey of the school estate which will detail the condition of every school in England by next autumn.

There are 42 schools – those in the worst condition and all the special needs schools in the programme – that will be fast-tracked for urgent building work.

Gove’s statement added: “I know many schools will be disappointed not to be included in the programme. We have had to take difficult decisions in order to target spending on those schools in the worst condition.”

PFI, which involves private contractors paying upfront for schools and hospital buildings, then leasing them back for up to 30 years, has become increasingly expensive since the financial crisis.

Gove said the Department for Education was working with the Treasury to reform the PFI model and provide “cost-effective and more transparent” delivery of services. Under the school rebuilding scheme, schools will manage and control services such as cleaning, catering and security.

Traditional PFI deals involve the automatic bundling of services such as cleaning into construction contracts. This has beencriticised by the Treasury for failing to deliver value for money.

Unions are concerned staff lose out on pay and conditions when such services are contracted out.

Nusrat Faizullah, chief executive of the British Council for School Environments, an education charity, said: “It’s great to finally see some schools, at least, will be replaced or refurbished.

” It’s also good to see that schools in the very worst condition will be fast-tracked.”

“But this only is a beginning. Hundreds of schools have lost out after being told by the previous government their schools will be rebuilt; they too must have their building needs addressed.”

Steve Beechey, head of education at construction firm Wates, described the statement as “light on the detail” of how the new school buildings would be procured and the timeframes involved.“Given that it typically takes at least two years from the time a decision is made to build a school until it is ready to open, it is essential that the government swiftly follows up today’s announcement with more information on how it intends to prioritise projects for delivery.”

In the same interview, Gove denied the closure of grammar schools was responsible for a decline in social mobility. He said:“Selection isn’t a magic bullet. If you look across the worldat those countries that have successful education systems, yes, some of them are selective, like Singapore. Others, Finland, South Korea, Japan, aren’t.

“So it’s not the case that you need to have selection in order to have a successful education system which advances social mobility.”

He added the decline in social mobility had more to do with progressive teaching methods and softer subjects in state schools.“In fact there were other changes occurring in education – a move away from traditional subjects rigorously taught in many cases. It would be wrong to look back at the 60s and 70s and say that the move away from grammar schools was the sole cause of adverse changes.”

The 200 schools are:

Barking and Dagenham

Eastbrook Comprehensive School

Eastbury Comprehensive School

Barnet

Pardes House Primary School

Birmingham

Castle Vale Performing Arts College

Hallmoor School

Heathlands Junior and Infant School

Kings Norton High School

Plantsbrook School

Turves Green Boys’ School

Blackpool

Collegiate High School

Hawes Side Primary School

Highfurlong School

Palatine Sports College

Bradford

Belle Vue Boys’ School

Carlton Bolling College

Oakbank School

The Samuel Lister Academy

Brent

Alperton Community School

Copland Community School

Bristol

Hillfields Primary School

St Anne’s Park Primary School

St Ursula’s E-ACT Academy

Bromley

Harris Academy Beckenham

Harris Academy Bromley

Bury

The Elton High School

Cambridgeshire

The Manor

Camden

Hampstead School

Maria Fidelis Convent School FCJ

Cheshire West and Chester

Blacon High School

Crowton Christ Church C of E Primary School

Dee Point Primary School

Highfield Community Primary School *

J H Godwin Primary School

Neston High School

Coventry

Alice Stevens School

Ernesford Grange Community School

President Kennedy School

Richard Lee Primary School

St Thomas More Catholic Primary School

Whitmore Park Primary School

Wyken Croft Primary School

Croydon

The Archbishop Lanfranc School

Cumbria

Southfield Technology College (joint application with Stainburn School and Science College)

St James C of E Junior School

Stainburn School and Science College (joint application with Southfield Technology College)

Derby

Asterdale Primary School

Carlyle Infant School

Cavendish Close Junior School

Chaddesden Park Infant School (joint application with Chaddesden Park Junior School)

Lees Brook Community School

Reigate Primary School

Woodlands School

Derbyshire

Alfreton Grange Arts College

Devon

Chagford C of E Primary School

Haytor View Community Primary School

Ilfracombe Arts College

Ladysmith Junior School

Newton Poppleford Primary School

Newton St Cyres Primary School

South Molton Community College

South Molton United C of E Junior School

The Castle Primary School

The Grove Primary School

Doncaster

Askern Moss Road Infant School

Don Valley Academy and Performing Arts College

Durham

Durham Trinity School and Sports College

King James I Academy Bishop Auckland

Seaham School of Technology

St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Voluntary Aided Primary School

West Cornforth Primary School

Ealing

Mayfield Primary School

East Riding of Yorkshire

Goole High School

Hessle High School and Sixth Form College

Withernsea High School

Wolfreton School

Essex

Lawford Mead Primary (replaces Lawford Mead Infant and Lawford Mead Junior Schools)

The Edith Borthwick School

Gateshead

Charles Thorp Comprehensive School

Front Street Community Primary School

Hill Top School

Lingey House Primary School

Roman Road Primary School

Greenwich

Eltham C of E Primary School

Invicta Primary School

Our Lady of Grace Catholic Primary School

The Eltham Foundation School

Wingfield Primary School

Halton

Halebank C of E (VC) Primary School

The Heath School

Harrow

Aylward Primary School

Cedars Manor School

Marlborough Primary School

Priestmead Primary School and Nursery

Salvatorian College

Vaughan Primary School

Weald Infant School (joint application with Weald Junior School)

Weald Junior School (joint application with Weald Infant School)

Hartlepool

Barnard Grove Primary School

Holy Trinity C of E Primary School

Manor College of Technology

Havering

Hacton Primary School

Suttons Primary School

The Mawney Foundation School

Hertfordshire

Bishop’s Hatfield Girls’ School

Garston Manor School

Goffs School

Kings Langley School

Longdean School

The Highfield School

Westfield Community Technology College

Hillingdon

Abbotsfield School

Northwood School

Swakeleys School

Hounslow

Hounslow Manor School

Isle of Wight

Carisbrooke College

Christ the King College

Oakfield C of E Aided Primary School

Ryde Academy

Kent

Aylesham Primary School

Castle Community College

Chantry Primary School

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Academies’ refusal to admit pupils with special needs prompts legal battles

Academies’ refusal to admit pupils with special needs prompts legal battles

guardian.co.uk |by John Harris on May 24, 2012

Mossbourne academy

Mossbourne was one of the first academies and has won praise from both Labour and the Tories for its pupils’ achievement. Photograph: VIEW Pictures Ltd / Alamy/Alamy

Two of the government’s flagship academy schools are facing legal challenges for refusing to admit children with statements of special needs.

In one case involving Mossbourne academy in Hackney, east London, which has been celebrated for its academic record, the school refused to admit an 11-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, arguing it would compromise other children’s education and it already has a higher than average number of pupils with special needs. The London Oratory, a Catholic school in Fulham which became an academy last year, is also facing a special needs legal challenge.

The cases suggest academies may not have the same legal obligations to children with special needs as maintained schools. While parents of children with special needs have the right to appeal against a decision at any other school, lawyers are concerned that academies can turn them away with no recourse. The legal cases could have widespread implications as more than half of secondaries in England are now academies.

There are up to 30 cases of children with special needs who have been refused an academy place, according to Ipsea, the special needs advice service. Eight involve Mossbourne which was one of the first academies and has won praise from both Labour and the Tories for its pupils’ achievement. After last year’s A-level results,seven pupils from the school won places at Cambridge.

The Learning Trust, which manages education in Hackney, refused to name Mossbourne in the boy’s statement, the document setting out a child’s needs and the help they should receive, including the name of the school they will attend. Such statements are given to children with the most severe special needs and 2.7% of schoolchildren in England have them.

While he is academically gifted – he already has GCSE Maths A* – his condition can make him unsteady on his feet. It also affects his ability at practical tasks such as using a ruler.

The boy’s mother, Sarah Creighton, said: “We said, ‘In what way can you possibly say [he] is going to interfere with the other children’s education?’ He’s top of the year in all his subjects, he’s got GCSE Maths A* already, he’s won the pan-Hackney debating challenge two years running, he’s a prefect and a reading mentor at his school. Obviously, I’m his mother, and I’m very, very proud of him. But I think I’m justifiably very proud of him.”

The family’s lawyers say Mossbourne has refused to accept that the Sspecial educational needs tribunal – a court which hears school place appeals by parents of children with such needs– should hear the case. They say the school claimed it was not governed by legislation for state schools but only by its funding agreement with the education secretary.

The Learning Trust applied successfully to have the case struck out but the family has lodged an appeal to a higher court.

Elaine Maxwell, a partner at Maxwell Gillott solicitors, for the family, said: “The academy may have good grounds for refusing to take a particular child in an individual case, … but that should be an argument they make before a tribunal – they shouldn’t have it struck out before they get there.

“When you get a school saying it’s full, that’s not an end to it. The child or his parents should be able to say: does our disadvantage outweigh the disadvantage to other children? There’s a balancing act that has to be struck.”

She added: “How are academies accountable? This has been inherent in academies from the beginning. If academies aren’t bound by SEN provisions and the tribunal system, then the parents of a child with a statement have fewer rights than anyone else.”

Mossbourne told the family their son’s admission “would be incompatible with the efficient education of other pupils at the academy”. A local authority can legally decline to name a school in a statement if the child’s presence would have a negative impact on the education of existing pupils. This could mean, for example, reducing the level of pastoral care available to other children.

The academy said nearly 1,600 children applied for 200 places in its September 2012 intake. Of those, 53 have statements. Of the 53, 28 named Mossbourne as their first preference. Nationally, 21% of schoolchildren have some form of special needs but at Mossbourne the proportion in each year is 26%-28%.

The boy’s family argue that his statement comes with funds that would help the school to provide for him.

Creighton said: “Part of me feels that this seems so blatantly wrong: that a school can say, ‘These regulations set up to protect disabled people don’t apply to us, so we don’t have to live by them.’ That seems so wrong, that anyone would be able to do that.”

A spokesman for the Learning Trust said: “As a matter of policy we do not comment on cases of this nature. Depending on the terms of the funding agreement between an academy and the secretary of state, the academy may not have to admit a child even if the school is named in the child’s statement.”

The London Oratory case concerns an 11-year-old boy from Croydon. The school declined to be named in his statement, arguing too that it would compromise the “efficient education of other children.”

Chris Barnett, lawyer for the family concerned and head of the education and disability law department at Levenes solicitors, said: “If it hadn’t been an academy, the authority would have named it [in the statement]. Croydon’s position seems to be that it doesn’t accept the arguments the school has put forward, but they still won’t name it. It seems to me that the LA [local authority] doesn’t quite know how to deal with it because it’s an academy.”

A tribunal hearing in the London Oratory case is due next month.

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