The Schools Bill was published on 12 May to deliver the Government’s agenda to improve education standards across the country.
One of the key focuses of The Schools Bill is to increase the number of academies. The Government’s aim is that by 2030 all schools in England will be either within a multi-academy trust (MAT) or in the process of joining one and with a single regulatory approach. Whilst most secondary schools in England are now academies or within multi-academy trusts the great majority of primary schools in the sector are not, with only 44% of maintained primary schools believed to be within the academy fold. Under the Schools Bills local authorities will have greater powers to compel a school to convert to an academy, by applying for an order requiring the governors and local authority to take ‘all reasonable steps’ to facilitate the school’s conversion.
The Department of Education will also gain greater powers of intervention. These new powers will include:
- issuing a notice to an academy trust’s board of trustees requiring it to improve
- replacing an academy trust’s board of trustees with an interim board or to appoint additional trustees where the board has failed to take adequate steps to address a notice of improvement; and
- terminating the funding agreements of a multi academy trust.
The Schools Bill also contains provisions aimed at improving attendance, with plans to require local authorities to use their powers to promote regular attendance and to require schools to publish attendance policies and implement efforts to promote regular attendance. There will be a requirement for local authorities to maintain a register of children not in school and of those being home-schooled. The Education Secretary will also assume the power to determine the fines that should apply for parents taking their children out of school during term time.
The independent schools sector will also be affected by the provisions of the Bill. New measures will permit Ofsted greater powers over unregistered and registered independent schools. There are reports that the Department of Education is seeking to create new powers to suspend the registration of private schools who have been found to have serious safeguarding failings which pose a risk of harm to students.
The remit of the Teaching Regulation Agency(TRA) will also be expanded to broaden its current regulation of the teaching profession. This will include extending the scope of those who fall within the TRA’s regime to persons who commit misconduct whilst not employed as a teacher, but who have previously performed teaching work. The education settings within which relevant teaching work will apply will be extended, and will include further education colleges, independent training providers and online education providers. New provisions will also enable officials of the Department for Education to refer matters of misconduct to the TRA, such as fraud or exam malpractice which may come to light in the course of an inspection.
The Schools bill is currently before Parliament and may be changed as it makes it journey through both houses.
Birketts is one of three firms who are appointed by the Department of Education to provide legal advice to the TRA’s independent professional conduct panels. Members of our Education Team are therefore well-placed to assist you with any concerns you may have about a matter which may give rise to a referral to the TRA.
If you should like to speak to a member of our Education Team to discuss any aspect of this article please contact Abigail Trencher.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at May 2022.