I am seeing and hearing about a growing number of pupils being placed by Academies on ‘reduced timetables‘, or on ‘vocational courses’ despite being clearly capable of full time and more academic courses. I can’t refer to most of them in any detail because of confidentiality concerns. But I have been given permission by the family involed to talk about the latest one.
The latest was the subject of criticism by the Special Educational Needs and Disaility Tribunal dealing with a complaint of disability discrimination by an Academy against a boy with epilepsy and ADHD.
Despite him having a statement of special educational needs which entitled him to full curriculum access and 18 hours per week of 1:1 support, the Academy responded to his disruptive behaviour by putting him on a two hour a day much reduced timetable. In the end, he was permanently excluded.
His parents complained to the Tribunal.
Earlier this month the Tribunal found that the academy had unlawfully discriminated against him in the provision of education for a reason related to his disability. It found that the academy had failed to make reasonable adjustments by obtaining urgent and relevant advice and support from outside agencies and that ‘that there was, sadly, an attitude of the [academy] treating [the pupil] as a badly behaved boy and not as a boy with a disability that happened to manifest in confrontational behaviour’. Also ‘reasonable adjustments …. could and should been made that would have significantly reduced the substantial disadvantage that undoudtedly accrued to him by the lengthy curtailment of his schooling and/or by his ultimate exclusion’.
Among other things, the Tribunal ordered the academy to apologise and ordered the Head, SENCO, Chair of Governors and SEN Governor to undertake training on the Equality Act with all staff to undertake training on the reviewing of IEPs and Behaviour Management Plans.
Because the issue arose in a discrimination claim before the Tribunal, the other legal issues which they case might have raised did were not directly live. But it is interesting to note that the academy clearly did not consider itself legally bound to make the provision in the pupils statement of SEN.
Notably, it is one of the academies whose funding agreement merely required it to teach the National Curriculum programmes for maths, English and science (and nothing else) ‘so far as is appropriate’ to any pupil; and which made it clear that the academy is ‘not required to teach an individual pupil or group of pupils in one or more subjects where, in the opinion of the principal, it is inappropriate to do so by reason of the pupil’s or group’s ability or attainment’. I imagine that, if the academy thought at all about its legal powers to reduce the curriculum here, it thought that provision gave it the requisite power to act as it did. But nothing in the SENDIST decision suggests that ‘ability or attainment’ were the issue here, so it is hard to see how that would have been the case.
The impression which I often get in such cases is that many academies are not overly concerned with the legality of what they are doing. They consider themselves free to do whatever they want.