30 January 2011
[2011 /5] Policy Watch – Making sense of the latest Education Bill
The latest Education Bill, published last week, packs a number of punches although few of them come as a surprise.
The reason is that it builds on a head of steam that has been growing for some time. From last summer’s Academies Act through to last autumn’s bulging White Paper, the Bill adopts what is fast becoming a familiar mantra for education reform: ‘unnecessary’ procedures stripped away; schools granted greater autonomy; core learning centralised; teacher responsibilities beefed up; accountability sharpened; the choice of provider extended and a clutch of quangos removed.
The underlying theme may be a freeing up of the system to enable it to perform more effectively but critics have pointed to the considerable reserve powers being retained by the Secretary of State along the way. “All the hall marks of a power junkie” as one put it.
A wide-ranging Bill
The Bill comprises 10 parts and 16 Schedules and has nearly 80 clauses. It ranges from early years provision at one end to HE fees at the other taking in the school workforce and curriculum, the extension of the Academy brand and some changes to post-16 provision on the way.
The section on HE student finance which introduces loan arrangements for part-time students and provides a for a higher rate of interest to be applied to student loans has clearly been tagged on to prepare for the changes to graduate fees to be introduced next year. The issue of high earners having an unfair advantage on the repayment of fees had been raised quite a few times. Clause 70 is intended to head concerns off.
New powers, new freedoms
Much of the media interest so far has concentrated on the section granting new disciplinary powers to schools and teachers. Under the Bill, teachers won’t have to give 24 hours written notice for after school detentions for instance; search powers, a big concern given the growth in social media, will be extended and pupil exclusions may still be reviewed but will be more difficult to rescind.
The Secretary of State firmly believes that poor pupil behaviour puts off a lot of aspiring teachers and with his emphasis on the importance of teaching is keen to be seen tackling it. The whole of Part 2 of the Bill is given over to the issue of discipline.
Excessive paperwork and prescription are also big turn offs so some changes are made here as well. Many of the changes have already been announced and include: the scrapping of the requirement to complete a school profile; the removal of the duty to enter into a behaviour partnership; the ending of the requirement, in England at least, to ‘have regard to the children and young people’s plan; and the scrapping of the duty on local authorities to appoint school improvement partners. Most of these can be found in Part 5 of the Bill under the heading ’Other Provisions’ along with some important changes to the inspection system, to intervention powers in underperforming schools and college corporations.
The position on quangos
The Bill also confirms the removal of a number of quangos. In many cases as the bodies concerned are being dismantled, functions are transferred to the Secretary of State, hence the charge about the concentration of power.
Clauses 8, 14 and 24, for instance, deal with the dismantling of the General Teachers Council (GTC,) the Training and Development Agency (TDA) and QCDA. The end result is that strategies for the regulation of teachers and for the curriculum all fall to the Secretary of State.
It’s also worth noting some changes to two other bodies. One is the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) which although abolished under the Bill will re-emerge in a slightly different guise and a slightly different name. The Education Funding Agency (EFA) as it will be known will be an executive agency rather than an arms’ length body and thus brought within the Dept; it will be a direct funding body for Academies, Free Schools and 16-19 provision generally.
The other is Qfqual where the emphasis will clearly be on regulation and benchmarking as evidenced by the shift in title to Chief Regulator for the new head and by the requirement in Clause 22 for Ofqual to benchmark qualifications against best international practice. At this stage, that would mean measuring up against those PISA topping countries often cited by the Secretary of State but given that their qualification systems let alone approach to learning can be quite different, this may not be a straightforward exercise.
Some other important Parts to the Bill
Parts 4, 6 and 7 provide the backbone of the Bill.
Part 4 deals with Qualifications and the Curriculum. Three clauses stand out:
- Clause 20. This requires state schools, although not yet Academies, to participate in international surveys such as PISA. This would thus prevent any future opting out
- Clause 27. This deals with careers guidance in schools and confirms that ‘independent advice’ must be provided for pupils from age 14, and from age 16, this must also include advice on other training options such as apprenticeships
- Clauses 28, 29. These remove the duty on Local Authorities to ensure ‘additional’ entitlement to Diplomas
Part 6 deals with Academies particularly in the light of the earlier Clause 36 which establishes a presumption that any new school will be an Academy. Points to note here include:
- Clause 50. This removes the requirement for a secondary Academy to have a specialism
- Clause 51. This creates two new types of Academy: a 16-19 Academy and an alternative provision Academy which will provide alternative provision for pupils under 16 unable to participate in mainstream education. Other Clauses deal with land and admissions arrangements but it is the 16-19 Academy proposal that is raising eyebrows largely because 16-19 provision is already a crowded field and this would appear to add to it
Part 7 deals with post-16 education and training and includes the following:
- Clauses 65, 66. These provide for the prioritisation of funding and provision of apprenticeships for young people aged 16-24 but with some caveats. Funding won’t be provided for those who already have an apprenticeship at the same level, the Secretary of State will be able to limit and even suspend funding in certain circumstances and the issuing of certificates will be brought under his designation
- Clause 68. This restricts fee remission on the first full vocational qualification at level 2 and specified qualifications at level 3 to those aged 19-24
- Clause 69. This provides for the raising of the participation age first to age 17 and then age 18 as previously proposed but now allows the Secretary of State to look again at the vexed issue of sanctions for non-participation
Head of Policy
Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning