The first draft of the Education Bill was published by the UK government on Thursday. Much of the content of the Bill had already featured in the Schools White Paper (The Importance of Teaching) that was released in November last year, but there were some new details and surprises.
Consisting of nine main parts, the Bill extends the power of schools to search and discipline pupils, abolishes five quangos, changes school accountability, the role of Ofsted and the duties of local authorities, and amends Academy legislation.
The Bill limits the role of Local Authorities, provides more freedom to schools and strengthens substantially the power of the Secretary of State. The Bill will have its second reading in the House of Commons on 8 February 2011.
Part 1: Early years provision
Current regulations require local authorities to secure 15 hours per week of free early years provision for three and four year olds. This Bill retains this entitlement and extends it to two year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Part 2: Discipline
If passed the Bill will give authorised school staff will have the power to search pupils if they suspect they are in possession of weapons, alcohol, illegal drugs and stolen property. The Bill extends the list to include any item that has been or might be used to commit an offence or damage a person or property.
Students can bring material into a classroom with the express aim of disrupting learning, and some of these items are apparently innocuous, or in some cases helpful to the students outside the classroom, a mobile phone. But they are used in the classroom to either play a part in low-level disruption or sometimes they're aids to encourage bullying." Michael Gove
School staff will still be able to exclude a pupil on disciplinary grounds, either temporarily or permanently, but the Bill means that schools in England will no longer be compelled by a review panel to reinstate a pupil. The Bill states that if a school does not reinstate a pupil after the review panel has asked it to reconsider an adjustment in the schools budget may be made. However, it does not provide any further details of the school remaining responsibility for the education of any excluded pupil. Schools in Wales will retain the current appeals procedure.
The requirement for schools to give parents or guardians 24 hours written notice of detention outside of normal school hours will be repealed. The requirement for secondary schools and academies to enter into behaviour and attendance partnerships will also be repealed.
Part 3: School workforce
The Bill details the abolition of the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE), the Training and Development Agency (TDA) and the School Support Staff Negotiating Body (SSSNB). Some functions of the GTCE and TDA will transfer to the DfE.
Teachers in England are to be required to complete an induction period of not less than three school terms. The Bill restricts the reporting of allegations of offences that would constitute a criminal offence by teachers in England and Wales. These restrictions will remain in place until a teacher is charged.
Part 4: Qualifications and the Curriculum
Community, voluntary and foundation schools in England will be required to participate in international surveys, such as PISA. Interestingly academies are not mentioned in relation to this requirement, so one assumes that they will not be compelled to participate. This raises concerns about how representative future PISA responses will be of schools in England.
Ofqual will be given a new objective to ensure that qualifications give a reliable indication of knowledge, skills and understanding, as well as indicating a consistent level of attainment over time and with comparison to qualifications outside of the UK.
The Bill abolishes the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) and transfers relevant functions to the DfE. Diploma entitlement for 16-18 year olds and those in Key Stage 4 is repealed, so schools will not be required to offer Diplomas to their pupils.
Part 5: Educational institutions
The Bill repeals the duty of governing bodies in England to cooperate with local authorities in making arrangements to improve children's well being and to have regard to the local children's trust board's children and young people's plan.
The duties to prepare and publish a school profile and to appoint a school improvement partner are also repealed. The requirement for local authorities in England to establish an admission forum will also be repealed.
Although the schools adjudicator will be able to consider complaints about Academy admissions, as they can with maintained schools, they will no longer have the power to compel changes to admission arrangements in response to any complaint or referral.
The Bill introduces a cap on how much local authorities and governing bodies in maintained schools in England can charge for school meals, but also allows for more flexible charging of meals.
The areas that Ofsted are required to inspect will be reduced from 27 categories to four. These areas are: the achievement of pupils, the quality of teaching, the quality of leadership, and the behaviour and safety of pupils. Outstanding schools will be exempt from routine inspections, unless there is a cause for concern. Schools that are exempt from these inspections will be able to request an inspection, but Ofsted will be able to charge for this service.
I think there are areas where Ofsted have been asked to inspect like community cohesion, some of the regulations governing what students are bringing in in their lunchboxes at lunchtime, which are entirely peripheral." Michael Gove
The Bill gives the Secretary of State more power to act if a school in England is performing poorly or if there are concerns about safety. Schools will no longer need to be in special measures before the Secretary of State can direct the closure of a school. Changes to the responsibilities of the Local Commissioner mean that parents will no longer be able to complain to the local authority about issues relating to the curriculum, and strengthens the Secretary of State's power of intervention.
More than two-thirds of local authorities had never issued a warning notice; only 100 warning notices had been issued during the history of this provision. Now we can insist that local authorities issue warning notices, and not just for schools in special measures but also for schools in the Ofsted category above that – notice to improve – and also for schools where there are real reasons for us to have concern." Michael Gove
Changes to financial arrangements included in this part of the Bill include the ability for early years providers to charge for provisions of places that are not funded by the local authority.
Part 6: Academies
The Bill means that Academies providing secondary education will no longer be required to have a subject specialism. There will now be three different types of Academy: Academy schools, 16 to 19 Academies, and alternative provision Academies. Alternative provision Academies will cover establishments that provide full or part-time education for children of school age who are not in school due to illness, exclusion etc, so this will typically cover PRUs and hospital schools.
If the local authority considers that there is a need for a new school in the region they will now be required to seek proposal for the establishment of an Academy. There is an assumption that any new school will be an Academy. The Bill makes provision for one or more, but not all, schools in a federation to become an Academy without first having to leave the federation.
The Bills gives the Secretary of State greater power to transfer publically funded land of maintained schools to Academies. This means that land on the site of a former school can be transferred to a Free School provider. Local authorities will need to seek approval from the Secretary of State before disposing of or appropriation of school land and the DfE will have the right to compulsorily purchase that land for the purpose of providing a site for a Free School. Michael Gove has also made it clear that if a sponsored academy is underperforming then he would replace the existing sponsor with an alternative. He sited the example of St Michael's and All Angels in Lambeth, which will close and then reopen under the sponsorship of ARK.
Part 7: Post-16 education and training
This part of the Bill abolishes the Young People's Learning Agency for England (YPLA) and transfers power to the Secretary of State. A new executive agency of the DfE, called the Education Funding Agency will take on relevant parts of the YPLA's role.
The Chief Executive of Skills Funding will now have a duty to fund apprenticeship training and to ensure that young people in England participate in education or training until the age of 18.
Part 8: Student Finance
A surprise inclusion in the Bill concerned student finance. The Bill amends the power of the Secretary of State to set interest rates on student loans for students starting university on or after 1 September 2012. The Education Bill focuses on schools and concerns the business of the DfE, whereas the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have responsibility for higher education. According to the Press Association, the Government has said that the proposal was included in the Bill because the changes need to be in place before higher tuition fees and the new funding system come into force next year.
Parts 9: National Assembly for Wales
The National Assembly for Wales is given more power regarding professional standards, regulation and training in schools.
Christine Blower, general secretary, National Union of Teachers
Despite the education secretary's claims that he wants to remove the 'dead hand' of government from schools, this Bill appears to do exactly the opposite and will lead to a greater centralisation of power.
Chris Keates, general secretary, NASUWT
The rhetoric surrounding the bill is 'localism'. The reality is unprecedented, massive centralisation of power.
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary, ATL
We are pleased that the Education Bill seeks to provide greater protection for teachers from malicious allegations. But we cannot support the Bill's central message that schools should be less concerned about each child as a whole, and only concerned with narrow academic targets.