The Education and Adoption Bill 2015 completed its passage through Parliament on Tuesday night and will now become law.
For schools in England, the bill’s provisions will:
Require every school judged ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted to be turned into a sponsored academy
Give new powers to the Secretary of State (SoS) to intervene in maintained schools considered to be underperforming, and constrain local authorities from doing so in some circumstances
Expand the legal definition of the ‘eligible for intervention’ category to include ‘coasting’ schools, and enable the SoS to intervene through a range of measures including requiring the school to become a sponsored academy
To enable intervention in academies on the basis that they are ‘coasting’. Initially, the bill only applied the definition to maintained schools but this was altered by the government during the bill’s passage
Allow the SoS to issue directions, with time limits, to school governing bodies and local authorities, to speed up academy conversions
Place a new duty on schools and local authorities in specified cases to take all reasonable steps to progress the conversion
Require schools and local authorities in specified cases to work with an identified sponsor toward the ‘making of academy arrangements’ with that sponsor
Remove the requirements for a consultation to be held where a school ‘eligible for intervention’ is being converted to a sponsored academy. Government amendments tabled in the Lords require a new sponsor to communicate their plans for a school to parents.
Much of the debate on the bill has centred on the issue of consultation, and the NGA was among the many voices, both inside and outside parliament, calling for this aspect of the bill to be altered. Amendments seeking to reinstate a consultation process into the academy conversion process were tabled by opposition politicians in both houses but were defeated.
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Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, Schools Minister Nick Gibb said that, although not precluding those who choose to consult on a planned academy conversion, the bill would end the current “rigid approach that allowed vested interests to prevent sponsors from taking decisive action and to delay the process of transformation”.
In 2010 the NGA lobbied for and was pleased to see the inclusion of the requirement to consult parents, pupils, and staff on the decision to change the status of the school. The selection of an academy sponsor is a critical strategic decision and NGA is of the view that, where there is capacity and capability in the governance arrangements, this decision should be subject to consultation and remain with the governing board. NGA is disappointed, therefore, that the bill will remove requirements for consultation and rights to decide on the identity of an academy sponsor.
The government intend that the powers to intervene in maintained schools will be delegated to the eight Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs). The Education Select Committee’s recent report into the role of RSCs raised several concerns, including around the clarity of the role. For more details, see our news item.
The details of how the bill’s provisions will be implemented will be set out in a new version of the Schools Causing Concern guidance. Drafts of both this guidance and the proposed ‘coasting’ definition were consulted on by the Department for Education last term and the outcome is expected to be published in the near future.
What this means for governors
If an LA maintained school is judged by Ofsted to be ‘inadequate’ it will become an academy because the new law will require the education secretary to make an academy order in such cases. The local authority and governing body will have to facilitate the conversion. The SOS may revoke an academy order if another potential approach to improvement is identified or if closure is deemed to be the best solution.
A new performance measure may leave your school open to academy conversion by the SoS if the school is deemed to be ‘coasting’. Where a school meets the criteria for ‘coasting’ it will be for the RSC to determine whether it has a credible plan to improve or whether in her/his opinion intervention is required. If it doesn’t, the RSC may decide that a school: needs additional support and challenge; should be required to enter into specified arrangements; that additional governors or an interim executive board (IEB) are needed; or that the school should become a sponsored academy.
Academies can also be ‘coasting’ and these schools could be handed over to new sponsors. But importantly, academy trusts will have the power to challenge the decision.
The governing boards of foundation schools will have recourse to consultation if the government is seeking to convert its school into an academy.
Interim executive boards (IEBs) the SoS will have the power to issue to directions to local authorities about the membership and terms of appointment of IEBs.
Eligible for intervention
Eligible for intervention is a specific term which means that the DfE or the local authority has the power to intervene in the running of a school because of concerns about the way it is performing.
A school is ‘eligible for intervention’ where:
The governing body has failed to comply with the terms of a warning notice (issued by the LA or, as a consequence of this bill, the SoS/RSC)
The school has been judged ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted
From 2016, the school’s performance falls under the ‘coasting’ definition
When a school is ‘eligible for intervention’, either the local authority or regional schools commissioners may utilise one of the following measures:
Suspend the right to a delegated budged (LA)
Appoint an Interim Executive Board (IEB) (RSC, or LA with RSC’s permission)
Appoint additional governors (RSC or LA)
Require the governing body to ‘enter into arrangements’ (RSC or LA)
Direct the LA to close the school (RSC)
Make an academy order (RSC)
In general, where the RSC intends to intervene in a school, their powers take precedence over those of the LA.
NGA signs joint letter on Education and Adoption Bill