Academy loses legal challenge over special needs pupils

One of the government’s flagship academy schools has lost a legal challenge over its refusal to admit a number of children with special educational needs. This is from the Guardian…

Mossbourne academy argued in one case that it already had a higher-than-average number of pupils with special needs. Parents have successfully challenged Mossbourne academy in Hackney, east London, in three legal cases, while a fourth has been adjourned.

The cases include one in which the school refused to admit an 11-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, arguing that it would compromise other children’s education and that it already has a higher-than-average number of pupils with special needs.

While the 11-year-old is academically gifted – he already has an A* in GCSE maths – his condition can make him unsteady on his feet. It also affects his ability at practical tasks such as using a ruler.

The Learning Trust, which manages education in Hackney, refused to name Mossbourne in the children’s statements, the document setting out a child’s needs and the help they should receive, including the name of the school they will attend.

However, a tribunal has ruled that Mossbourne should be named in the statements of the three children, according to Ipsea, the special needs advice service. A fourth case was adjourned for more information, Ipsea said.

A local authority can legally decline to name a school in a statement if the child’s presence would have a negative impact on the education of existing pupils. This could mean reducing the level of pastoral care available to other children.

Jane McConnell, Ipsea’s chief executive, said: “These parents have gone through an ordeal which should not have happened. Very good schools like Mossbourne should recognise and celebrate their success with such children, and we hope the children in these cases will be among Mossbourne’s many success stories.”

According to Ipsea, the tribunal ruling established that parents can appeal over admissions decisions made by academies, even where the academy’s funding agreement with the education secretary does not state that it will follow such a ruling.

The tribunal applied the law relevant when a parent of a statemented child wants an independent school, Ipsea said.

The Learning Trust had argued that, depending on the terms of an academy’s funding agreement, it may not have to admit a child even if the school is named in the child’s statement.

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