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The Education and Adoption Bill is currently making its way through Parliament

Industry group makes a stand on education bill

Education experts have suggested a radical new amendment to the Education and Adoption Bill

Posted by Stephanie Broad | December 24, 2015 | People, policy, politics

The voices of parents, school governors, school staff and school leaders are part of a growing group expressing their opposition to the Education and Adoption Bill. This group is now suggesting a new amendment.

The Bill, which is currently on its way through Parliament, proposes a number of new powers for the government, which the group believes will remove their rights to have any say about decisions taken by or on behalf of schools. The group wants these clauses amended or removed and a new clause inserted which places a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to have ultimate responsibility for the provision of enough school places for the growing number of children entering education, and enough high quality teaching staff to teach them.

The group, which consists of the National Governors’ Association (NGA), education unions NAHT, NUT, ATL and UNISON, the Local Schools Network, and the Catholic Education Service, has written to the Daily Telegraph to express their concerns.

In the letter they say: “When a school is struggling, action must be taken to turn it around. However, giving the decision-making power for the whole country to one of eight unaccountable Regional Schools Commissioners is not the answer. 

“On top of that, anyone with an interest in the school, be they a parent, teacher or governor, will have no say in the choice of academy sponsor. They will not even be allowed the right to information about them. 

“For this reason we want to see the right to consultation before a school becomes an academy and over the choice of sponsor reinstated into the Bill.”

Figures from parent’s organisation PTA UK show that 97% of parents want a say in what happens at their children’s school. Research by the National Foundation for Education Research has shown that the government’s favoured approach of forcing maintained schools to become academies is no better at raising standards than supporting struggling schools via their local authority. The Bill seeks to remove local views and expertise from the process of school improvement, says the group.

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT, said: “There is no evidence that forcing schools to become academies is more successful at ‘raising standards’ than other school improvement approaches. We are all concerned that every child succeeds to the best of their ability, but the Education and Adoption Bill proposes the silencing of democratic participation in the future of schools. Amendment is therefore essential.” 

The new clause that the group suggests highlights a fundamental flaw they see in the legislation. The Bill makes no reference to the dramatic increase in pupil numbers that is expected over the next few years, nor does it mention the difficulties schools are facing in recruiting enough teachers to fill all the posts required. Given the scale of the challenge, the group would like to see the Secretary of State held accountable for making sure supply keeps pace with demand.

Tony Draper, NAHT’s National President said: “There are serious and significant challenges facing our school system today including funding, recruitment and pupil places. As written, the Bill addresses none of these challenges. That is why we need a new clause that makes the government accountable for the basics. The government is slowly beginning to realise what the real issues are but there’s a danger that the Bill will make it through Parliament before ministers have fully woken up. They urgently need to listen to the serious concerns that are being raised.” 

Because of the spectrum of voices involved, the group hopes that the government will respect its views. Far from allowing local expertise to drive improvement, the group believes that the Bill will centralise the school improvement process in Westminster, which is exactly the opposite of the school-led improvement process the government says it wants to see. 

Emma Knights, Chief Executive of National Governors’ Association, says: ‘The government is right to want to transform schools which are struggling; however we have tried and tested ways of improving schools. Schools in England are already held to account in a number of ways, and adding yet another system of rigid accountability is unnecessary. This legislation ignores less bureaucratic alternatives to academy conversion and in some cases will straightjacket the Secretary of State into converting a school into an academy when this may not be the best way of improving teaching and learning in that school.  NGA is concerned that if we do not have enough good head teachers and teachers, all schools – whatever their legal structure - will struggle to offer pupils the education they deserve.”

 

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