Lincolnshire school criticised for not accepting legal responsibility in discrimination case

The school at the centre of the row Photo: ITV News Central

A school in Lincolnshire which was found to have discriminated against a disabled pupil has been criticised by the child's parents for not accepting legal responsibility. The boy, who isn't being identified to protect his identity, has autism, attention deficit hyperactivity and double incontinence.

A tribunal judge found that the National Junior School in Grantham had unlawfully discriminated against him by punishing him over poor hygiene and refusing to inspect his skin.

However, shortly after the boy's parents lodged their complaint, the school converted to an academy. Under law, this meant that it was a new legal entity which didn't exist at the time of the discrimination, and couldn't be held liable.

I think there is a loophole here that needs to be addressed. I think accountability is accountability and I don't think schools who convert to academies should be able to use a loophole in this way.

– Boy's mother

After taking legal advice, the National Junior School decided not to participate in the case. In his judgement, the tribunal judge, said: "Despite a change of status, the new Academy is the same school, and in refusing to play any part in the proceedings, other than to deny liability on the narrow legal point of its changed status, it has missed the opportunity to defend or explain the actions or omissions of the National School."

It means liability now passes to the local authority, Lincolnshire County Council. But the judge took a sympathetic view, and did not find the council in any way responsible for the discrimination.

The liabilities of the previous governing body default to the local authority, and while that is clear in law, we consider that is unfair.

– Director of Children's Services, Debbie Barnes
The boy has now moved schools from the National Junior School in Grantham Credit: ITV News Central

The headteacher John Gibbs has strongly refuted any suggestion that they used their academy status as a loophole. Rather, he said, they were concerned at the potential legal costs which they felt would be better used for pupils currently at the National Junior School.

In a statement, he and the Academy Directors (the governors), said: "The Academy consulted with Legal Services Lincolnshire at the County Offices and accepted their advice to 'do nothing and let the Local Authority pick up the claim', as the Local Authority was the Respondent. The Authority elected not to submit a response to the claim which therefore left the Tribunal with no option but to uphold the claim. As no defence to the claim was submitted, the full facts and details of the support provided to the child were not considered. Since becoming an Academy in July 2012 we have used our additional funding to increase our staffing provision for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. We will be meeting with the Local Authority at the end of the month to discuss Additional Needs Provision and the best way forward."

The boy has now moved to a different school, where he is said to be doing well.