Parents challenge the rule books

10th February 2006 at 00:00
Graeme Paton opens a three-page TES analysis of the agreements ministers have struck with the controversial academies

Academies could find their rule books open to legal challenge, according to a London barrister representing parents angry that they are not bound by the same rules as other maintained schools.

Each academy has a unique funding agreement, spelling out sponsorship and grant arrangements, teachers' pay and conditions, information on pupil numbers and admission and exclusion rules.

In the past, academies have openly published most of this information in annual prospectuses, but the fine detail of funding agreements has remained confidential, kept even from parents, for contractual reasons.

It is only in recent weeks that the Department for Education and Skills has released all 27 agreements under the Freedom of Information Act.

David Wolfe, of Matrix Chambers, said: "If you are a child in a maintained school you have the direct legal entitlements to do with exclusions, admissions and other areas that extend across the state sector. In an academy, you do not have these same rights because each academy is bound by its own rules. There are some broad common themes, but each academy has a separate funding agreement."

Mr Wolfe is handling complaints in relation to the academies' alleged non-admission of children with special educational needs, exclusions, "heavy-handed" disciplinary procedures and questionable complaints procedures.

Matrix, the practice co-founded by Cherie Booth, the Prime Minister's wife, is also representing residents opposed to the demolition of St Mary Magdalene primary, in Islington, north London, which is about to be replaced by an academy for four to 16-year-olds, sponsored by the Church of England.

Mr Wolfe said: "We are advising parents who have concerns both about the practice of setting them up and the way that they operate.

"The message to the academies seems to be a degree of independence, but what seems to be happening is that they are pushing that independence right up to and beyond the limits."

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