12th December 2022
Schools Bill to be Scrapped
Government U-turn on pledge to raise standards
Gillian Keegan, The Secretary of State for Education, has confirmed that the Schools Bill "will not progress" to its third reading in the House of Lords.
Measures including a requirement for councils to maintain a register of children not in school, an obligation for schools and trusts to have an attendance policy in place and a duty on local authorities to provide support to home-educating families have all been ditched in a statement issued by Keegan.
The bill was due for its third reading in the Lords but following fierce opposition over clauses that critics claimed would have given ministers unprecedented powers over how academies operate, the bill has been sidelined.
Keegan told the government: “Obviously, there’s been a lot of things that we’ve had to focus on, and the need to provide economic stability and tackle the cost of living means that the parliamentary time has definitely been reprioritised on that.”
The original aims
Initially, the Schools Bill consisted of 69 clauses, but on 30 June 2022 the Government announced that 18 clauses dealing with the regulation of academies and trusts would be removed. This decision was taken after peers in the House of Lords made accusations of a ‘Whitehall power grab’ that would have limited the freedom of academy schools.
The bill pledged to raise standards through a variety of initiatives including a new register for children not in school, additional support for schools to join succesful multi-academy trusts, and new powers for Ofsted to crack down on unregistered schools operating illegally.
It promised “for every child to receive a world-class education, no matter where in the country they live”.
Keegan told the education committee that many of the bill’s aims could still be implemented without legislation, including reforms to schools funding in England, and said the government remained committed to legislating on protections for faith schools joining multi-academy trusts. Keegan promised that new guidance would be published in the new year.
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said; “While this is the right decision, it does reflect the chaos of government over the last 12 months. It’s frustrating that so much of everyone’s time has been spent dealing with this when we could all see its flaws. It’s a shame that the sensible and necessary elements of the Bill that we did support have been thrown into the long grass alongside the others."
The NEUs joint general secretary, Kevin Courtney, responded: “Parents and local councillors want an education system which is well-funded, responsive to local needs and which works for their local context, without pressure to join a mega trust.”