A report has given new weight to concerns that the rapid spread of “academy” schools is undermining the inclusion of disabled children in mainstream education.
Inclusive education campaigners say the concerns raised in the report by the Academies Commission confirm evidence that disabled children are increasingly being pushed into segregated academy settings.
The report, Unleashing Greatness: Getting the Best from an Academised System, describes how parents are reporting being unable to gain places in academy schools for their disabled children, and are expressing concerns about the level of special educational needs (SEN) support provided by academies.
Campaigners told the commission how some academies were setting up alternative, segregated provision for children with SEN, often for those labelled as having behavioural, emotional and social difficulties (BESD).
In their evidence to the commission’s inquiry, they also raised concerns about the trend for academies not to appoint their own SEN coordinator.
The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) said it had been highlighting since 2010 how the introduction of special academies would “attack disabled children’s rights to good inclusive educational provision within mainstream schools”.
ALLFIE said the Academies Commission’s report showed “the growing evidence that mainstream academies are not using their resources to build and develop inclusive education practice but are instead excluding and segregating pupils into alternative provision”.
Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, said academies were increasingly transferring those children who were not going to achieve a certain level of academic success into new “alternative provision” academies, or – increasingly – new special academies.
Many of these are children with BESD or unidentified SEN, such as pupils on the autistic spectrum or with communication disorders, she said.
The report reveals the scale of change under the new government: in May 2010 there were 203 academies but by the halfway point of the coalition in November last year, there were 2,456.
The report says more than half of all secondary schools and a growing number of primary and special schools have now become, or are set to become, academies.
The Academies Commission was set up by the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) and the Pearson Think Tank to examine the impact of the “mass academisation” of state schools.
The commission report concludes that one of the three “imperatives” for the improvement of the academy system is to ensure it is “fair and equally accessible to children and young people from all backgrounds”, particularly in supporting fair access to all schools for children with SEN.