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Academies: Special Educational Needs

Volume 758: debated on Tuesday 16 December 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of academies on the education of children with special educational needs.

My Lords, the Academies Annual Report sets out how academies cater for vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils, including those with special educational needs. In 2013, the results for SEN pupils in primary sponsored academies improved at a faster rate than in local authority maintained schools. In secondary sponsored academies, the results improved at a similar rate to those of local authority maintained schools. The results for SEN pupils in primary and secondary converter academies remained well above those for SEN pupils in local authority maintained schools.

I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Is he shocked by the refusal of some academies to admit pupils with special educational needs on the basis that they do not contribute to the,

“efficient education of other pupils”?

One such excluded SEN pupil was an 11 year-old boy with cerebral palsy who already had passed his maths GCSE with an A* grade and was a prefect and reading mentor at his primary school. Will the Minister take another look at academies’ admissions policies towards SEN pupils because if gifted pupils like the one I have described can be selected out, what hope is there for other children with special educational needs?

I do not recognise the point that the noble Baroness is making. There is a clear appeals procedure in relation to SEN admissions which is followed most rigorously for all pupils with SEN.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the director of the New Schools Network. Under this Government, more than 1,800 new places have been created in free schools for children aged up to 18 with special educational needs. In light of the education, health and care plans, can the Minister tell us what consideration is being given to ensure that vulnerable young people up to the age of 25 have access to appropriate education to ensure that they are best prepared for their adult lives?

My Lords, I am delighted to be able to answer my noble friend’s first question in your Lordships’ House. We know that some young people with SEN need longer to complete and consolidate their learning. That is why our reforms extend SEN provision to young people aged 18 to 25. Where needed, they can now get EHC plans from their local authority and receive the tailored support they need to remain in formal education. The code makes it clear that these plans should reflect their ambitions and enable them to make a successful transition into adulthood.

My noble friend will note that there has been an increase in the number of children with special educational needs in academies to 12.5%. However, in 16-19 academies there is no requirement to have a special educational needs co-ordinator—the person in charge. Therefore, how does he envisage that those pupils who are on an old statement—or now an education, health and care plan—can navigate the transition and be provided with the support that they need?

The schools to which my noble friend refers must make clear what their offer is for SEN pupils. They must provide for SEN pupils, and they must publish their plans on their website very carefully.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that virtual academies provide a very valuable service for children who are unable to attend school by giving them online and blended learning? Perhaps I may also say how grateful I am to his department for incorporating this in the latest Bill.

The noble Countess is quite right in that regard: for certain pupils, virtual learning is very appropriate.

My Lords, the Equality Act talks of the need to make “reasonable adjustments” for disabled people, while the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act enshrines the right to access “mainstream education”. Does the Minister agree that all children with special educational needs, such as autism, whether at an academy, a maintained school or a further education college, should encounter a curriculum and qualifications that are accessible and adjusted to their needs?

I agree entirely with the points the noble Baroness makes, particularly in relation to pupils with autism.

My Lords, the Minister gave the figures for percentage improvements. I did not hear any comparative figures between different bands of schools. I wonder whether he could make those figures available. A 13% improvement may lead to an equality of opportunity or may merely improve things. While he is writing about that, perhaps he will let me and the House know how many of those special needs improvement figures relate to the growing number of special needs pupils with behavioural problems who, in my experience, parents fear are being excluded on the grounds of the efficiency of the school, which has been referred to.

I will write to the noble Baroness in the terms she requires. I can certainly tell her that she will find the headline figure she is looking for very reassuring.

My Lords, in light of the importance for the progress of SEN children of the role of SEN co-ordinators, both by focusing the attention of any school in which they are placed on the needs of those children and in advising parents and children on appropriate placement, will the Minister tell us why, as I now understand is the case, some schools are exempted from the duty of having such a co-ordinator?

I have already answered the point in relation to 16-19 academies but all other schools must have a SENCO, and we have funded more than 10,000 new SENCOs since 2009. We have funded more than 1,000 teachers to get postgraduate SEN qualifications. We are also investing heavily in the Achievement for All programme, which is reaching many schools, to help leaders improve their SEN provision.

The Minister said that he did not recognise the case that I set out of the disabled child who was rejected on the basis of his disability. That is a well known tribunal case. There are others like it, which I will write to the Minister with details of. In the light of those cases, will the Minister review the Government’s policy in this area, as well as the fact that parents want redress at a local level when they cannot get their kids into school? They do not want to have to write to the Secretary of State.

I will of course look at any points the noble Baroness writes to me about, but I think it is fair to say that this Government have done more than any other Government in recent generations to reform the whole provision for SEN, as demonstrated by the Children and Families Act that came through your Lordships’ House earlier this year.