Education and Adoption Bill Published

03/06/2015

The Education and Adoption Bill was laid before Parliament today, which will mean new powers for Government intervention in schools. 

The main provisions of the Bill are that:

·        Maintained schools rated inadequate by Ofsted will be subject to an Academy Order. That is, the mechanism which enables a maintained school to be converted to an academy, as opposed to the current position where the Secretary of State can issue such an order, but doesn’t have to;

·       Powers of intervention – the Secretary of State, as well as local authorities, will have the power to issue warning notices to maintained schools and to determine the form of intervention: ie. to require the governing body to enter into arrangements; to appoint additional governors; to suspend the delegated authority for the school’s budget; and/or to appoint an Interim Executive Board (IEB) to replace a failing governing body.  Currently the Secretary of State only has powers to direct a local authority to issue a warning notice.

·       The Secretary of State will have the power to determine the membership of an IEB even if a local authority had issued the warning notice.

·       A warning notice will also apply to coasting schools; although as yet there is no definition of ‘coasting’ which will be defined in regulations after a summer consultation.

 Where a school has been rated inadequate by Ofsted and is therefore subject to an Academy Order, there will be:

o   No requirement to consult on conversion to academy status

o   A requirement on the governing body and local authority to take all reasonable steps to facilitate the conversion

o   Power for the Secretary of State to direct a governing body and/or a local authority to take specific actions to facilitate the conversion process.

Launching the Bill, the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, said: “Today’s landmark bill will allow the best education experts to intervene in poor schools from the first day we spot failure. It will sweep away the bureaucratic and legal loopholes previously exploited by those who put ideological objections above the best interests of children.”  

The Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt, said it was, “very depressing to see the government’s partisan and divisive education policy continuing into this parliament.” He added, “These measures do not meet the challenges we face in education, such as preventing educational inequality setting in during the early years and ensuring high-quality teachers are attracted into poorly performing areas.”

The Department for Education (DfE) estimates that the new measures would cover approximately 1,000 schools, but given the lack of detail this is very much an estimate. As of 31 March 2015 there were 447 schools rated ‘inadequate’ and 3,299 ‘Requiring improvement’ at their most recent Ofsted inspection, although some of those will already be academies. NGA looks forward to being involved in the consultation on the definition of coasting schools.

No definitive evidence

NGA agrees with the House of Commons Education Select Committee that there is no definitive evidence that any one school structure is better than another in bringing about school improvement.

Emma Knights, Chief Executive of the National Governors’ Association, said: “This Bill represents a further centralisation of decision making regarding our schools; it does not sit well with the Government’s rhetoric about school autonomy as it not only removes the right for parents to be consulted, but it will give the Secretary of State power to overrule the decisions of local decision makers, whether those are the school governing body or the local authority. Where schools are underperforming governing boards must be honest and realistic about their own performance and ensure that at the earliest possible time an appropriate plan to improve the school is put in place. This will almost certainly involve assistance from outside agencies, including in many cases another successful local school (which may be an academy) and often the local authority. Where local authorities have concerns that governing boards do not have a plan for improving schools they need to take action at the earliest opportunity.
NGA agrees with the Secretary of State that we should not delay with the business of improving schools, but some of that delay can be caused by her Department being slow to agree to local authority proposals to intervene; we suggest the Government should use this Bill to remove the bureaucracy which surrounds that first level of intervention with maintained schools and let local authorities get on with setting up an Interim Executive Boards when they are needed.
Sponsored academy conversion is not the only route to school improvement, and NGA has concerns about the capacity of the existing academy system to take on and improve many more schools in challenging circumstances. There are only eight  regional schools commissioners with small teams to cover the whole of England and we are already seeing a shortage of good sponsors, a shortage of professionals putting themselves forward to lead challenging schools, a shortage of teachers, and a shortage of volunteers to govern schools.  These challenges of finding excellent candidates of course face all our schools, whatever their legal status, and tackling these shortages should be at the heart of the Government’s strategy to ensure all our pupils receive a good education.”

While The Daily Mail has reported that the new measures will 'drive up standards' there has also been a number of objections raised in light of today’s announcement, particularly about the removal of consultation from parents, and subsequently SchoolsWeek also covered the over-ruling of governing bodies’ decisions.

You can read the Bill here The Bill is expected to have its second reading in the House of Commons at a date yet to be announced but no doubt at that point the Secretary of State will be challenged to produce the evidence that converting to academy status does improve the education of pupils. The passage of the Bill will be reported on our Parliamentary pages.

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