John Fowler, Independent Commentator and Policy Manager, Local Government Information Unit, writes about the Education for All Bill and the National Citizen Service Bill and other matters.

The Government

The Queen’s Speech in May 2016 (see Education Now 51) sets out the Government’s programme of legislation in this session of Parliament which is likely to continue to spring 2017 (unless a general election is called). The change of Prime Minister in July has not affected the legislation before Parliament, or, as far as is known publicly, any Bills published since July.

There have been changes for the Department for Education (DfE) with the acquisition of responsibility for higher education, along with the Higher Education and Research Bill which is currently in the Commons. The DfE has also acquired further education for over 18-year-olds, and skills. The youth service, moved under the Coalition Government to the Cabinet Office, has now moved to the Department for Culture, Media & Sport.

Legislation has progressed since Education Now 51 was published in July. Here are the highlights.

Education legislation

The Queen’s Speech promised an Education for All Bill containing both school and skills legislation. The new Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening, confirmed to the Commons Education Committee on 14 September that work on implementing the Education White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhereis continuing and that the Government will “finally bring it [the Education for All Bill] forward later in the year”. The Secretary of State confirmed, as her predecessor did, that she wished to see every school become an Academy but there would be no enforcement. She also used the session to support the continuing presence of parents in the governance of schools.

The Government produced in September a Green Paper for consultation Schools That Work for Everyone. Responses are required by 12 December 2016. The stated purpose of the document is to consult on how to increase the number of “good” school places (an additional 600,000 secondary school places are likely to be required by 2025) and to do it in a way which “extends opportunities for everyone, not just the privileged few”, especially families which “deserve a better deal”. There has been much public debate to achieve this by permitting the establishment of new grammar schools and allow existing secondary schools to select by academic ability.

The Post-16 Skills Plan has been published (see www.gov.uk).

The Secretary of State announced on 27 October that the Government has “reflected on our strategic priorities and the proposals put forward at the time of the Queen’s Speech” and has decided to legislate this parliamentary session only for the skills elements. The Government published a Technical and Further Education Bill on 27 October also.

On the Schools that Work for Everyone proposals, which ask how “more great school places in more parts of the country — including selective places for local areas that want them” can be created, the Secretary of State has concluded that “no changes to legislation are required for these purposes and therefore we do not require wider education legislation in this session to make progress on our ambitious education agenda”.

National Citizen Service

The National Citizen Service (NCS) is a voluntary personal and social development programme for 16- and 17-year-olds. The NCS was originally piloted as part of the “Big Society” agenda to bring together local communities and give them more power and responsibility: it was to become a universal rite of passage for young people leading to a more responsible, cohesive and engaged society that would transform communities by empowering young people.

Short courses are provided in the school holidays to help young people build skills for work and life, while taking on new challenges and meeting new friends. “Participants develop a social action project to deal with a local issue they’re passionate about, and spend 30 hours putting the project into action in their community,” and over 200,000 young people have taken part in the scheme since it commenced in 2013.

National Citizen Service Bill

The National Citizen Service Bill was published in October and is currently before the Lords. See www.parliament.uk). The Bill provides for the existing NCS Trust, which manages the NCS programme, to be incorporated by a Royal Charter (a draft of which has been published), applies to England only, and defines “young people” as 16- and 17-year-olds, but the charter allows the inclusion from “time to time” of 15-year-olds and young people under the age of 25 to ensure that the programme is accessible to those who cannot take part aged 16 or 17 due to their individual circumstances.

The Trust must promote social cohesion by ensuring equality of access to the programme by participants regardless of their background or circumstances and to seek to expand the number of participants. The Trust must treat as a paramount consideration the safeguarding and promoting the wellbeing of participants as well as having regard to the desirability of promoting social mobility; personal and social development of participants; and the employment prospects of participants by equipping them with relevant skills. The Trust must encourage participants to take an interest in debate on matters of local or national political interest, and promote participants’ understanding of how to take part in national and local elections.

The Bill allows the NCS Trust to charge for attendance on its programmes, but this does not represent the actual cost, rather it acts as an incentive to ensure attendance.

Informing young people about the NCS

The Bill also enables HMRC to assist the NCS Trust to promote its programmes by telling parents and carers of young people about the NCS Trust and its work, and by inviting young people to take part in programmes provided by the NCS Trust. The purpose is to help the Trust get its message across to most eligible young people. However, the Bill departs from the original plan in the Queen’s Speech and does not contain a duty on schools and local authorities to promote the NCS.

It is expected that the Bill will finish its Lords stages by Christmas before going to the Commons and be on the statute book early next year

Other developments

The Children and Social Work Bill continues its passage through the House of Lords, and has already been heavily amended by Government following the publication, after the Bill was published, of a review of safeguarding arrangements which will mean the replacement of the existing Local Safeguarding Children Boards.

Finally, details of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy — the sugar tax — have been published, which will be added to a Finance Bill in 2017. The Treasury documents though do omit the direct use of income from the levy to double the primary schools’ physical education and sport premium and to enable a quarter of secondary schools to offer an extended day.

Last reviewed 30 November 2016