John Fowler, Independent Commentator and Policy Manager, Local Government Information Unit, searches for new developments.
What is happening?
This column began in Croner’s Education Management Update exactly 10 years ago, and for the first time there is nothing of significance to report. There are last year’s Acts which are being implemented, and this year’s Bills which are progressing, but what happens next? Many proposals in the May 2016 Queen’s Speech are apparently dormant, and yet there are pressing issues where Government legislation is needed, and there are longer-term issues where there is apparent silence.
The two Acts from the last session had detailed implementation arrangements — “secondary” legislation — confirmed by Parliament in December 2016.
Education and Adoption Act 2016: rules were approved to determine which schools will be designated coasting following their 2016 school performance results and those from the two previous years.
Childcare Act 2016: rules were approved to determine the eligibility criteria for “working” parents to benefit from the extension to 30 hours of free childcare for three- and four-year-olds.
The Bills which will affect schools continue their progression through Parliament; all are likely to reach the statute book by Easter 2017 in their current shape.
Children and Social Work Bill: See Education Now 51 (July 2016). Those provisions which affect schools: education of adopted children, and care leavers, remain as they were. The provisions on the area accountability arrangements for safeguarding have been changed and expanded following the publication of the Wood Report.
National Citizen Service Bill: See Education Now 53 (November 2016) is continuing its passage through Parliament.
Technical and Further Education Bill: See Education Now 53 is also progressing uneventfully.
Not mentioned previously, the Digital Economy Bill may be used to help schools know which pupils are eligible for the Pupil Premium by enabling direct access to social security information.
Legislation yet to come
First, the Department for Education (DfE) consultations where there has been no response.
The DfE has developed the habit of consulting on proposals to change the law, but not responding to take the matter further. Recent examples, with the month during which consultation closed include:
Out-of-school Education Settings: Registration and Inspection (January 2016): this was part of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy. The consultation sets out arrangements to supervise small education settings where there was a fear that they might be used as recruiting grounds for terrorist organisations. The proposals would also capture many other groups. The Government has received 18,000 responses. Legislation would be sought through a proposed Counter-extremism and Safeguarding Bill, which has not appeared. See Education Now 51
Staffing and Employment Advice for Schools (February 2016): this would bring up-to-date (and remove the “statutory” guidance designation) advice for local authority (LA) maintained schools
Children and Young People’s Mental Health (March 2016) on peer support for the most effective support methods to help improve the mental health of children and young people
Childcare Workers: Changes to Disqualification Arrangements (July 2016) which included the banning of adults from working with early years children in non-residential settings, including primary schools, who were “guilty by association”, ie lived in the same house as someone who had a criminal offence
Reporting and Acting on Child Abuse and Neglect (July 2016). See Education Now 52 (September 2016).
There are also consultations where the Government has responded but arrangements are not yet finalised. The principal one is school finance where the Government must make arrangements otherwise schools would not be funded. However, the original proposals have been delayed by a year, and no plans have been announced for any legislative changes to the Schools Forum and the LA, consequent upon the removal of the Education Services Grant and its school improvement duties.
The Government is coming under increasing pressure to make personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education a statutory requirement in schools. In November 2016, the chairs of five all-party Commons Select Committees, wrote to the Secretary of State, asking for the introduction of such a requirement, and there have been several debates in Parliament. The Government continues to resist this change in the law.
Education for all
Then there are the original proposals in the Education for All Bill announced in the May 2016 Queen’s Speech, and partially withdrawn in a Ministerial Statement in October 2016 (see Education Now 53). The proposals for further and technical education are found in the Bill of that name (see above), but there has been silence on the other proposals. This has been complicated as, following the change of Prime Minister, additional plans were produced for consultation in September 2016 in the Green Paper, Schools that Work for Everyone. Responses were required by 12 December 2016.
The Secretary of State has stated that she is committed to the original objective of the Queen’s Speech proposal, and the March 2016 White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, of “full academisation” by 2022 but without the force of law. However, the Secretary of State only withdrew the plans for the current Parliamentary session, and could bring them back in the next session starting in May 2017.
Government resources are currently, and no doubt for many years, going into the Brexit arrangements, and full academisation may have to take a back seat. The Government appears to be conflicted by a desire to press ahead with full academisation, which in the author’s estimation could take four or five Bills over the equivalent number of Parliamentary sessions, or leave alone with a mixed economy of roughly a quarter of the schools in the academy sector (and admittedly a majority of the larger secondary schools), or wait for the number and capacity of multi-academy trusts to develop, and then take a decision, while in the short-term concentrate on school improvement in both the LA and academy sectors, and legislate on a number of “minor” issues such as admissions, and alternative provision.
There may be a resolution by the end of 2017, hopefully.
Last reviewed 20 February 2017