Academies Bill [HL] — Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 7th July 2010.

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Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 6:45 pm, 7th July 2010

My Lords, I shall seek to be brief with this amendment as I have already written to noble Lords about it and we discussed these issues at length in Committee.

The purpose of this government amendment is simple; it is to ensure that the obligations placed on academies in respect of SEN mirror those placed on maintained schools. I said early on in Committee that I could not see in principle why one set of state-funded schools should treat children with SEN any differently from another set of state-funded schools. Having listened to the points that were raised in debate and having had a number of subsequent meetings on SEN with noble Lords who are far more experienced than I, my initial instinct has been confirmed and I am very glad to have this opportunity to move this amendment, which should put the principle of parity beyond doubt.

As noble Lords are aware, academies are already required, through their funding agreements, to provide for pupils with SEN in a similar way to maintained schools. Noble Lords will also know that the funding agreement has been the main regulatory mechanism for academies since their inception, as we discussed this afternoon. We agree with the previous Government that this should continue. We could therefore have ensured parity through the funding agreement alone. However, we decided to go further. This amendment acknowledges the particular concerns that have been raised in relation to SEN and will therefore put into the Bill a requirement that academy arrangements-either funding agreements or grants-must contain provisions that impose obligations that are equivalent to those that are imposed on maintained schools in Part 4, and in regulations made under Part 4, of the Education Act 1996. This means that no funding agreement could omit these provisions unless further primary legislation were made to remove these requirements.

In practical terms, the amendment imposes additional obligations on academies to: inform parents that their child has SEN and of the special educational provision being made; accept the naming of the academy on a child's statement; and appoint as a SENCO a person who is a qualified teacher. Moreover, new SENCOs will have to undertake prescribed training. It will apply to any new academy and to any existing academy that enters into new funding arrangements.

At this point I would also like to put on record the reassurance I gave the noble Lord, Lord Rix, at our meeting on 1 July that it is the Government's policy that academy special schools should offer a broad and balanced curriculum that meets the needs of an individual child as specified in their statement of special educational need. I am very pleased to have the chance to move this amendment. I hope that it will provide assurance that the SEN obligations on academies will mirror those that are placed on maintained schools. I beg to move.