John Fowler, Independent Commentator, and Policy Manager, Local Government Information Unit, writes about the Education and Adoption Bill’s progress and looks at what the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have in store for the next Education Bill.
Education and Adoption Bill
The sedate progress of the Education and Adoption Bill in the House of Lords accelerated a gear at the start of December following the publication of a number of announcements and the publication of Government amendments.
The Government has remained firm that the definition of coasting schools will be an arithmetical extrapolation of a school’s pupil performance data including both achievement of an “expected standard” (for primary schools) and a progress “expected standard” (for primary and secondary schools) over a three-year period. Lord Nash, the Schools Minister, summed up the Government’s approach thus: “Our clear and transparent data-based definition will not be open to interpretation”. (House of Lords debates, 5 November 2015).
Government amendments to the Bill will ensure that there is a debate in both Houses of Parliament the first time the regulations are made which will contain the rules on how a school’s pupil performance data are transformed into deciding whether a school is coasting or not. It will also enable a debate on how many schools are found to be coasting, as this will depend on where the “expected standards” are set. Lord Nash reported.
“It is therefore impossible to predict, before the definition has been finalised and the tests have been set, exactly how many schools we expect to be labelled as coasting. We expect, however, to identify hundreds of schools which can be challenged and supported to improve.” (House of Lords debate 17 November 2015).
The Bill removes the consultation requirement in the Academies Act when a local authority (LA) maintained school undergoes what is known as ‘”enforced”’ academisation, that is when the Secretary of State can require a maintained school which is “eligible for intervention” to become an academy. And the Bill extends the scope of the enforced academisation by providing for mandatory enforced academisation for all schools which receive an inadequate grading (grade 4) from Ofsted. A Government amendment will require parents to be informed of, but not consulted about, the proposed sponsor of the school prior to academisation.
Inclusion of academies causing concern in the Bill
The Government amended the model funding agreement for academies in September 2015 to include the definition of coasting school so that an academy must submit an improvement plan if it is notified that it is coasting. If the academy ignores the coasting notification or the plan is not judged adequately and the academy does not improve, a Termination Warning Notice can be served. This will only apply to new academies which had their Academy Order approved after the new model funding agreement was published. The Government intends to amend the Bill to use the law to override older contracts between the Secretary of State and the Academy Trust, and enable the Secretary of State to terminate a funding agreement if the school is coasting. The Secretary of State will first have to issue a Termination Warning Notice which can include specified actions to be undertaken by the Academy Trust to improve the academy by a specified date. Failure to comply with the Termination Warning Notice can lead to the termination of the funding agreement.
The Government will also amend the Bill to include schools judged by Ofsted to be inadequate (or failing as the clause title describes it). In this case, the Secretary of State must give the Academy Trust the opportunity to make representations, although the Termination Warning Notice described in the previous paragraph for coasting schools will not apply.
The Bill should finish its Parliamentary stages in January 2016.
The next Government Bill
Tucked away in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Autumn Statement speech (25 November 2015) is the statement “we will make local authorities running schools a thing of the past”. This was reiterated by the Prime Minister in a speech on 7 December 2015 at the de Ferrers Academy: “we have a new ambition: to make local authorities running schools a thing of the past”.
The Blue Book containing the formal statement puts it differently. The LA role in running schools will be “reduced” which will be done by removing a number of Statutory Duties (para 2.64, page 91). The Chancellor’s speech says we will “help every secondary school become an academy”. It does not say we will “require”.
There is a semantic debate to be had about the meaning of “run”: some pro-local government voices say that LAs have not “run” schools for 25 years so the Prime Minister and Chancellor are just commenting on the current role of LAs. This is mistaken. The Sunday Times reported on 29 November 2015 that “a ‘reforming’ Bill being drafted in the Department for Education (DfE), which would complete the ‘true blue’ education revolution started by the former education secretary Michael Gove, is expected to be debated next year”.
So, 2016 looks like another bumper year for legislation affecting schools!