Education Bill

Memorandum submitted by The National Association of Independent Schools and Non-Maintained Special Schools (NASS) (E 17)

The National Association of Independent Schools and Non-Maintained Special Schools (NASS) is delighted to provide a submission to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee ahead of the committee considering the Education Bill.

Background to NASS

The National Association of Independent Schools and Non-Maintained Special Schools is a membership organisation for special schools catering for approximately 6000 very vulnerable children and young people. It provides information, support and training to its members in order to benefit and advance the education of chil dren and young people with SEN.

NASS is the only national organisation representing special schools in the voluntary and private sectors. NASS works in partnership with key national and regional organisations and acts as the voice for Non Maintained and Independent Special Schools (NMISS). NASS has over 200 members, spread over the whole of England and Wales. Non-maintained and Independent Special Schools cater for around 13000 of the most vulnerable children in the country with very wide ranging, but complex, needs. Over 99 per cent of places in NMISS are funded indirectly by the public purse, through Local Authorities making placements.

Free Schools/Special Academies

The Education Bill provides the provision to expand the Academies programme and NASS has welcomed the inclusion of NMISS in Free Schools/Special Academies. However, we believe that current detail set out by the Government is insufficiently clear about the potential benefits of opting for this new status. We believe that current academy funding models do not lend themselves to funding low-incidence provision which is used by several Local Authorities. We are extremely concerned about the possibility of placements being funded by individual purchasing authorities, as currently is the case, given the likely influx of new schools into the market.

Non-maintained special schools are able to become academies via the Free School route. However, progress has been slow in setting out a path for this transfer to take place. NASS is aware of at least one non- maintained special school which is currently being held back from transferring by the speed of policy development. We also think that the Department for Education needs to do more work on assessing supply of and demand for specialist provision around the country and to ensure that new schools are not set up to fail or, conversely, only succeed at the expense of well-established and well-functioning provision due to funding perversities.

We currently have a very mixed economy of special school provision and are not yet reassured that thought has been given to how this will operate in practice. The focus of policy to date on Free Schools and Academies appears to be on local provision and we believe that work is needed to ensure a balance of provision that operates at a sub-regional, regional and even national level.

VAT on non-business activities

There is also concern from within the NMISS sector about plans to allow academies to recoup VAT on non-business activities. The NMISS sector will be unable to reclaim VAT under these proposals and are considered "businesses" since we charge for the education provided. In practice, this could create a market distortion between our schools and Special Academies, meaning that the existing network of NMISSs would not be able to attract pupils, even where the quality was higher. However, the Government also need to be aware of the potential impact on Special Academies who take placements from more than a single authority and make a charge to other authorities for the placement of children and young people. After discussions with HMRC, we believe that such schools would also be considered "businesses" and would, therefore, be outside the scope of the planned changes to VAT recoupment

Questions for the Government

· Why is there currently no route for Non Maintained and Independent Special Schools to become Special Academies?

· What are the specific advantages of Non Maintained and Independent Special Schools becoming Special Academies?

· Will the Minister consider how health funding fits in with the new proposed model?

· Will the Minister consider the impact of plans to allow academies to recoup VAT on non-business activities on the NMISS sector?

February 2011