Government drops chaotic education policy

Ministers have dropped their flagship education policy Bill, which failed to gain the support of the sector

Education policy suffered a blow after the government dropped the ‘Education for All’ Bill. This policy, announced in the Queen’s Speech, failed to gain support from the education sector and was dogged by controversy.

The Bill would have forced underperforming schools to make the switch to academies, putting them beyond the control of local authorities by 2022. It aimed to “spread educational excellence everywhere”. However, the sector expressed concerns about putting failing schools out of the reach of local authority control.

The Bill had already been amended due to criticism. The original plans would have seen all schools become academies—a measure that was met with protestation from the education sector.

Legislation is unnecessary to make progress

In written statement, Education Secretary Justine Greening said: “We do not require wider education legislation in this session to progress our plans for an education system that works for all.

“No changes to legislation are required for these purposes and therefore we do not require wider education legislation in this session to make progress on our ambitious education agenda.”

The turnabout is undoubtedly surprising as the legislation had been given the green light to go ahead in the Queen’s Speech. However, news that the Bill will not go before parliament will undoubtedly be welcome by the education sector.

Local Government Association’s young people board chairman Councillor Richard Watts expressed his relief that the Bill will be dropped. He said: “We are pleased that the secretary of state is acting on the strong concerns from councils about the Government’s planned education reforms.

“[The] announcement is the right decision and shows the Government has been listening to our concerns, which have been echoed by MPs, teachers and parents.

“Councils have been clear from the outset that the proposals within the Bill focused too heavily on structures, when our shared ambition is on improving education for all children.

“In particular, both the forced academisation of schools in areas considered to be ‘unviable’ and the removal of the council role in school improvement, went against evidence that council-maintained schools perform more highly than academies and free schools in Ofsted inspections, and that conversion to academies did not in itself lead to better results.

“In our submission to the Treasury ahead of the Autumn Statement, we have called on the Government to take advantage of councils’ unique position in the community and give them a clear and strategic role in overseeing local schools systems, accompanied by appropriate resources, powers and flexibilities, so that they can support local school improvement and hold schools to account for education standards.

“We also urge government to reverse plans to cut £600 million from the Education Services Grant awarded to councils and academies next year.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said he was delighted the Bill had been scrapped.

“We welcome the demise of this legislation. It was, and remains, inappropriate to force good schools to convert when the evidence of any benefit is so dubious,” he said.

“As we have always said, tinkering with structures is a distraction from the real needs of schools – developing great teaching and great leadership.

“We will encourage all our members to keep making choices for the future based on the best interests of the pupils they serve, rather than fear or threat. For some this will lead to conversion to academy status; others will make different plans.”

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