TWO EDUCATION BILLS
Two new bills, the Education and Children’s Bill and the Academies Bill, will be pushed through Parliament quickly, so that new academies and free schools could open as early as September this year.
The Academies Bill will give maintained secondary, primary and special schools the right to apply to become an academy and deem all academy trusts to be charities. It will also grant the Secretary of State the right to issue an academy order requiring any local authority to relinquish control of a school. It will also make it easier for parents and other groups to set up “free schools”. Furthermore, schools will be able to apply for and become academies without consulting their local education authorities. Under the proposals, any school rated “outstanding” by Ofsted would be automatically approved for academy status.
As part plans to speed up the introduction of new academies, local authorities will no longer have to be consulted when a new academy is set up. Academies will continue to be funded at a comparable level to maintained schools but will also get their share of the central funding that their LAs used to spend on their behalf. They will have freedom to allocate this funding in a way that focuses on the needs of their own pupils.
The Academies Bill was introduced into the House of Lords on Wednesday 26 May 2010. The Second Reading – the general debate on all aspects of the Bill – takes place on 7 June. The Bill we be guided through the Lords by Lord Hill, a former key adviser to John Major.
The Education and Children’s Bill will give schools the freedom to deliver education however they see fit. Like that legislation, the Education and Children’s Bill seeks to give schools greater control over what is taught in their classrooms. It includes measures to reform Ofsted and to ensure that heads are held accountable for two educational “goals”- attainment and closing the gap between rich and poor pupils. The Bill also puts into practice one of the Liberal Democrats major concessions from the coalition agreement – the pupil premium. This was a manifesto commitment designed to ensure that disadvantaged pupils attract a greater share of funding.
Unions don’t like the proposals. Firstly they don’t believe there is sufficient evidence indicating that Academies raise standards. (Interestingly the FT, though supportive of Academies, on their performance tends to agree with the unions although PWC and Audit Commission reports suggest otherwise). Secondly they believe that the proposals are expensive and will mean that funding will be directed towards these new schools at the expense of other schools in the maintained sector. Thirdly they believe that severing the relationship between local authorities and schools will remove local democratic accountability so effectively disenfranchising most local people from decisions about their local schools. The NUT states that ‘Creating Academies on the scale proposed by the government will have the effect of transferring billions of pounds of publicly funded assets in the form of buildings and land into the hands of private sponsors.’ But there are also critics who believe that the proposals don’t go far enough. The Times on 26 May articulated a view shared by the private sector that schools providers should be allowed to make a profit.
It stated in a Leader ‘The profit motive has driven expansion because oversubscribed schools have an incentive to open a sister school, rather than build up a waiting list. Given the constraints on public expenditure it is unlikely that the British Government will provide start-up capital. So a non-profit policy could prove unnecessarily self-limiting.’
The coalition Government is well aware of resistance from unions and some local authorities but have made these changes a key priority and are in no mood to offer concessions. How they deal with the profit issue though remains to be seen.