Government aim to boost education standards with new Schools Bill

Today, the government published a new Schools Bill which they hope will raise education standards across the country, increase attendance in schools and improve safeguarding for children wherever they are educated.

The Department for Education said the Bill will pave the way for all schools to join a strong multi-academy trust. 

It provides the framework for a new, legally enforceable set of standards for academy trusts, replacing different standards agreed with each trust at the point it was created – so that parents will know what they can expect for their children.

Local authorities will be able to request some or all of their schools join a strong academy trust, in addition to the existing powers that individual school governing boards hold.

New powers will also be included for Ofsted to gather evidence and act against schools operating illegally, and removes loopholes that allowed some settings not to register as a school despite having children attend during most or all of the school week.

Subject to the passage of the Bill, Ofsted inspectors will gain a new power to ‘search’ for evidence of suspected criminal activity in relation to the rare cases of illegally operating schools.

This would remove another loophole where evidence could be hidden in locked cabinets or password protected computers, out of inspectors’ legal reach.

The Bill follows the plans set out in the Schools White Paper, including a pledge to parents that if their child falls behind in English or maths they will receive tailored support to get back on track.

The government have said this new Bill means that every child, no matter where they live, are given the same opportunities to succeed.

Other stronger safeguards the Bill sets out include making it an offence for individuals to not provide information or assistance to Ofsted inspectors.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “My mission is clear; I want to make sure every single child across our country has access to an excellent education, supporting them to reach the full height of their potential. 

“Between the strengthened safeguarding measures and greater accountability in our new Schools Bill, and our Schools White Paper ambitions to embed evidence, tutoring and excellent teacher training in the school system, I am confident we will achieve these ambitions for every child.”

Reforms to expand the remit of the Teaching Regulation Agency will make sure unsuitable teachers are prohibited from the profession, regardless of whether they were currently teaching at the time of their misconduct.

Other safeguarding powers in the Bill include a new legal requirement for local authorities to maintain registers of children not in school.

This will help ensure no child gets lost from the education system, as well as bring new requirements for schools, trusts and councils to work together to drive the highest possible levels of attendance in every corner of the country.

As all schools join multi-academy trusts, the Department for Education say new statutory academy standards will help make sure trusts themselves all remain strong, effective and able to command public confidence.

In the rare cases failures occur in trusts, they claim there will a clear and consistent approach to dealing with them, as is currently the case for schools themselves.

The Bill also encodes protections for grammar schools to retain their current status when joining multi-academy trusts, and for faith schools to similarly retain their existing freedoms.

The government say the Bill will also deliver their commitment to move to a direct National Funding Formula, increasing fairness by making sure every school receives funding on the same basis, wherever it is in the country.

This is all backed by a government investment – core school funding will rise by £4 billion in 2022/23 compared with 2021/22, which represents a 7% increase per pupil.

On top of this, £5 billion has been invested in the Government’s education recovery programme, including in the National Tutoring Programme, offering catch-up tutoring for students who fell behind during the pandemic.

Image credits: “The Department for Education office in Sanctuary Buildings, London” by Sebastiandoe5 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

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