Academies have been accused of “cherry picking” their pupils after it emerged the Education Funding Agency (EFA) has rejected almost 90 per cent of applications from councils to force them to admit a child.
The Local Government Association has called for councils to be given the power to order academies to accept ‘hard to place’ pupils.
Currently, they can only force maintained schools to accept these pupils – often children who were excluded by their previous school.
Although they can ask an academy to take a child in, if it refuses, the council can only ask the EFA – part of the Department for Education – to direct them to do so.
According to government figures, councils have made 121 such applications in the four-and-a-half years since April 2012. Only 15 were approved.
Des Reynolds, executive headteacher of the Short Stay School for Norfolk, which educates children who are permanently excluded, described it as a “really important issue”.
“In our current accountability-driven system, there are massive pressures on schools in conflicting directions”, he told TES. “There’s a really negative incentive for schools and academies not to take in some of the most challenging and vulnerable students.
“Without the power of a local authority to act on behalf of these most vulnerable students, these conflicting pressures have an adverse impact on those who need the places the most.”
He added: “I think, in all cases, you have got to find someone with responsibility who does not have a vested interest. In terms of having the organisation, the capacity and not having a vested interest, the obvious choice is the local authority.”
Richard Watts, chair of the children and young people board at the Local Government Association, said it was “vital that councils are urgently given the powers to take these decisions locally”, rather than civil servants in Whitehall.
He added: “By ignoring local council advice, the EFA is allowing academies to effectively choose the children they want to admit.
“There are far stronger safeguards in place to ensure maintained schools do not cherry pick their pupils and the same measures should be in place for all academies.
“Decisions about individual children should be made in the best interest of each child, not to protect favoured schools. These decisions are best made locally by parents and councils who know each child best.”
TES contacted the EFA for comment.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We expect local authorities and schools to work together to ensure all children, regardless of circumstances, are offered a place at a suitable school as quickly as possible.
“There are a number of steps that are taken before the EFA issues a formal direction which in the majority of cases end in a pupil being admitted to a school. A direction should be considered a last resort.”