School claims it is exempt from disability laws

Popular technology college will tell court that its right to select by 'aptitude' allows it to bar the disabled, reports Nicholas Pyke

THE first challenge to the new disability discrimination laws will be made in the High Court today as one of the most popular schools in London resists the admission of a dyslexic pupil.

Bacons City Technology College claims that it is exempt from the Special Educational Needs and Disability Discrimination Act 2001 because its admissions policy takes precedence.

The Act, which came into force in schools this week with the publication of a code of practice, aims to ensure that disabled children are not treated "less favourably".

Bacons, an oversubscribed school serving Southwark in south-east London, rejected an 11-year-old with dyslexia partly on the grounds that he did not have the required "aptitude" for technology.

Today the boy's solicitor, Jack Rabinowicz from the firm Teacher, Stern Selby will lodge an application for a judicial review, claiming that Bacons is in breach of both disability laws and the Human Rights Act.

The challenge has implications for the 14 other city technology colleges who fear that they could be overwhelmed by disabled children unless they are allowed to exempt themselves from the new laws.

The colleges guard their independent status jealously, claiming that they do not fall within the category of "state schools" dealt with by the legislation. Technically they are private institutions. They therefore believe that their admissions rules can take precedence over the new Act.

Frank Green, vice-chairman of the City Technology Colleges Association, and chairman of the principals' forum for the 15 technology colleges, said that the purposes of the school could be completely undermined.

"If a parent is able to get round the admissions criteria when they are oversubscribed, there is a danger a specialist school will end up as a special school.

"You could end up with 60 per cent of pupils having special needs."

Bacons achieved brief fame in the summer when it was named as the school which had educated Big Brother contestant Jade Goody.

Tony Perry, principal, said the school believed its admissions policy took priority over the disability rights legislation, but was still consulting legal advisers.

"We are waiting for guidance," he said. "We have an admissions policy, which is part of our funding agreement, and involves selecting on the basis of specialist aptitude.

"On the one hand we have an admissions policy agreed with the Secretary of State. On the other hand we have the new legislation."

The father of the dyslexic child, who does not want the family identified, was critical of the way Bacons selects pupils. "It should be open and transparent," he said. "But it is just a black hole."

John Wright of the Independent Panel for Special Educational Advice said that the Act applied to all schools, both state and independent. But he added that this did not necessarily mean that the boy would win his case. "It may well be that he doesn't have an aptitude for technology but that his dyslexia has nothing to do with that."

Briefing, 31

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Latest stories