I was reminded of the old saying this week that laws are like sausages; you really don’t want to know how they are made…
The Academies Bill is now law, meaning that lots of schools will soon be able to convert to academies, and be independent from local authority control. I personally don’t mind where deaf children are taught, providing they get the support they need. But in most areas, specialist support services are provided by the local authority. So there was always a real question mark over how academies would be able to support deaf children when they’re cut off from the local authority. There were also some big questions over where the money for this would come from, given that academies effectively disperse school funding far and wide.
In an ideal world, there would have been plenty of time to consider and reflect on these issues and come up with solutions that work. But the new Government was hell-bent on getting the Academies Bill into law as soon as possible to allow schools to convert from September. That didn’t stop the House of Lords from trying to slow things down. There were lots of lengthy debates on specialist support services and special educational needs. To the Government’s credit, some big concessions were made early on to help consistency in the legal framework on special educational needs. But they were reluctant to move on specialist support services. It was incredibly frustrating. The Government recognised there was a problem. But wouldn’t come forward with any solutions before the Bill became law. Their response could basically be characterised as “Meh…”
Enter the amazing Baroness Wilkins, a long standing NDCS supporter. With help from NDCS, she kept returning to this issue, put forward a draft amendment to the Academies Bill and eventually forced a vote on it in the House of Lords. The Government rarely loses votes in the Lords or the Commons. It lost this one. It was the 2nd defeat in the Lords for the new Government, and arguably the first major one.
And so the law was changed. It requires funding for support to remain with the local authority, to prevent it being dispersed far and wide. It also means the Government has the power and responsibility to ensure that any large scale conversions to academies do not disadvantage deaf children and other children with low incidence needs. To our surprise, the Government didn’t try to reverse the change to the law, though that was probably because its own deadlines didn’t allow for this. They have even made some fairly positive noises about it, despite trying to resist it in the Lords.
To me, perhaps the most disconcerting thing was that I drafted the change to the law on behalf of the Special Educational Consortium, despite not being an expert in such things and without access to an army of Government lawyers. On the one hand, I’m proud it wasn’t laughed out. On the other hand, I’m slightly alarmed that someone like me has effectively made the law. Is this how Judge Dredd felt?
It’s not the end of the road and the new law doesn’t revolve the issues and concerns fully. So NDCS and parents of deaf children will need to monitor what’s happening in academies going forward. But overall, despite a few weeks of frustrating to and fro, the end result is equivalent to a succullent sausage.