Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The People versus academies

The Guardian reports on the legal challenges being brought by some parents against the government's flagship city academies, claiming that the academies rules and regulations undermine parents'and children's human rights.

"The challenges are based on claims that some of the schools are running roughshod over parents' rights and, crucially, those of their children as prospective students at the new schools. Across all key issues - from admissions to discipline and appeals - the legal papers say the academies and the contracts they are based on are riddled with legal loopholes. The central charge is that parents and children will have fewer rights at the new, semi-independent academies than they do in mainstream, maintained schools...

The fact that the challenges are being brought by parents is in itself a blow for the Department for Education and Skills, because one of its staunchest defences of the controversial scheme has been that parents are clamouring for the new schools...

Some laws that maintained schools are compelled to abide by do not apply to academies. They do not, for example, always have to take a child with special educational needs (SEN) who has a statement naming the academy as the parents' preferred school. On exclusions, while pupils in maintained schools can appeal to a fully independent panel against a decision to exclude them from school, a student at an academy must appeal to a panel that is usually appointed by the school itself. In some cases, this panel is the academy's governing body.

Some of the more controversial detail of academies' policies is contained in annexes to the main funding agreement; these can, in some cases, be changed unilaterally by the academy trust, without the say-so of the education secretary. Provisions for religious education, and the right of parents to withdraw their children from RE, are often contained in these annexes.

Parents' rights could be further constrained, claim lawyers, because academy sponsors are entitled to appoint the majority of the governing body. Typically, academies are only required by their funding agreement to have one parent governor.

MPs on the influential parliamentary joint committee on human rights have also been questioning the impact of academies' "independent" status. In its recent report on education, it asked why the government did not use the education bill to make academies "maintained schools" for the purposes of SEN provision, exclusions and so on...

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills says: "We totally reject the claim that parents or pupils in academies have fewer rights than those in any other school. The biggest denial of human rights is a bad education. Academies promote the rights of children to a good state education where it has not been available in the past."

I'm not sufficiently familiar with the details to make any reasonable judgement call on this though it seems fairly clear that if the rules and regulations for running the academies are different to those for maintained schools then the rights of parents and pupils are different.

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