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

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour 6:45 pm, 7th July 2010

I, too, warmly thank the Minister for bringing his amendment. It certainly shows that he has listened to the House and we are grateful. I also support the noble Lord, Lord Low. He raises important issues in relation to JR and I am sure that the Minister will be able to respond positively.

I should like to raise a further issue on this group of amendments which relates to SEN funding. It arises from the potential decline in the ability of local authorities to fund support services for SEN pupils which would result from an increase in the overall number of academies.

At the moment, local authorities retain a proportion of funding related to the number of schools that they maintain for the provision of central services, including those for special educational needs. While the overall level of funding within a local authority area may well not fall as a result of this process, the reallocation of resources away from local authorities to individual schools can have potentially significant effects for children and young people with SEN.

We widely accept that the provision of special educational needs support is at the most expensive end, or at least the more expensive end, of the educational spectrum. A key feature of local authority provision is that it allows a local authority to ensure that finite resources are spent effectively through the ability of the local authority to generate economies of scale.

This matter will come up later in Amendment 21, to be moved by my noble friend Lady Wilkins, on low-incidence SEN. However, it actually raises a more general issue of principle. In the letter that the Minister circulated to us and my noble friend, he states that academies are able to buy in SEN support services from their local authority, from neighbouring local authorities or from other providers. I understand that principle, but I ask him to reflect on the circumstances. Because there will clearly be no requirement for an academy to purchase services from their local authority, current services might be at risk. In particular, the expertise that individual local authorities have established might not be available to academies, because resources are no longer there to support it. There is also a risk that the provision of SEN support on an individual school basis might be more expensive than that which could be accessed by the local authority.

The noble Lord may say that the problem will not arise, that essentially he is proposing a market-based solution and that because of that the combination of academies making their own decisions will ensure a satisfactory outcome. I should mention again my NHS experience, because what is happening here is very much in parallel to the decentralisation that has been undertaken in the National Health Service. My experience has been that in that process specialist services can actually lose out and that if they do, the Government have to find some mechanism for intervention to make sure that those specialist services, as a whole, continue to be provided. I give advanced warning that I will raise this again in the debate on my noble friend's amendment. It would be useful to have some indication from the Government that they understand the issue and that there is a mechanism by which they can deal with it. If the noble Lord had accepted my suggestion that a statutory duty of partnership might be laid on all parties, that might have been one way through.