On Tuesday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown called a General Election for May 6th.  This means Parliament needs to be dissolved, and therefore the business that Parliament was going to consider between now and May 6th either gets abandoned, or ‘washed-up’, in other words rushed through Parliament.

The Children, School and Families Bill, sometimes referred to as the Education Bill was washed-up yesterday.  However, in order for the bill to get passed a number of amendments have had to be made.  This was because the bill could not get passed without approval, opposition parties, particularly the Conservatives would only give their approval to the bill if a number of elements were removed.  The following provisions will no longer be included:

  • The Pupil and Parent Guarantees – which guarantee core rights and entitlements for pupils and parents, including catch-up lessons, 1-2-1 tuition and small group support for pupils needing extra support.
  • Home School Agreements – the Bill strengthens Home School Agreements, making them more personalised for each pupil, and new and stronger powers to enforce parents’ responsibilities in supporting the school in maintaining good behaviour including the possibility of a court-imposed parenting order.
  • Reform of the primary curriculum – the reforms to the primary curriculum, following Sir Jim Rose’s extensive expert review, provide greater flexibility for schools to tailor teaching to the needs and interests of their children while also focusing on the basics of literacy, numeracy and ICT.
  • Introduction of compulsory Personal Social Health and Economic (PSHE) education – the PSHE provisions ensure that all children receive at least one year of compulsory sex and relationship education (SRE) by making PSHE compulsory, and lowering the age at which parents can withdraw their children from PSHE from 19 to 15 years old. Legal advice to the Secretary of State was that increasing the age of the PSHE opt-out to 16 would have made the bill non-compliant with the ECHR.
  • The new Licence to Practise for teachers – this licence, accompanied by a contractual entitlement to continuing professional development, will establish the professional standing of the workforce and provide teachers with the status they deserve.
  • Registration and monitoring of home education – following Graham Badman’s independent report into home education, these provisions put in place a valuable tool for local authorities in their work to safeguard all children.
  • School Improvement Partners (SIPs) – the powers of SIPs will be updated so headteachers receive peer support, and challenge.
  • Data for the school report card – the new school report card gives fairer and more accurate accountability for schools and gives parents even more information about the schools their children attend.
  • Schools eligible for intervention and schools causing concern – the Bill strengthens local authority powers to intervene in schools causing concern, and more powers for the Secretary of State to intervene where improvement is not good enough.
  • Youth Offending Teams – the Bill gives powers for the Secretary of State to intervene where an inspection or other evidence reveals a significant failing in a Youth Offending Team (YOT) which may be putting young people or the wider community at risk.
  • Parental satisfaction surveys – this duty on local authorities would require them proactively to seek parents’ views on the range and quality of secondary school places in their area and then act on their responses.

There are, therefore a number of key, and high-profile measures which will not now become law.  The recommendations arising from the Rose Review of the primary school curriculum, for one.  This was high-profile, and certainly controversial, but it did suggest that the primary school curriculum was going to change significantly.

Members of the current Government have attacked members of the opposition for their opposition to the intensive catch-up provision, and their refusal to back compulsory sex education for pupils aged 15 and over. 

Under the intensive catch-up, £169 million had been allocated, over the next three years to provide one-to-one tuition in maths and writing  for pupils who had not met expected targets at key stage 2.  Given that these basic skills are not only identified as essential, but are also a hot political issue, it might seem odd that the Conservatives have opposed this measure.  They are, after all keen to criticise Labour when children fail to meet expected standards in English and Maths. 

The Conservatives have argued that catch-up should be left to the discretion of head teachers, in other words ensuring that pupils meet minimum standards in English and Maths is not something that the Government should concern itself with, especially if it is going to cost £169 million.

Compulsory PSHE (Personal, social and health education) for pupils aged 15 and above has been dropped, this has disappointed several young people’s charities.  This element would also have seen PSHE on the curriculum from the age of 5 (though with parents having the right to withdraw their child). 

The plans to register home educators has been dropped, and although this may please home educators who feared interference it also, potentially puts some children and families at risk in cases where they not being educated appropriately.

A planned licence to practice for teachers has also gone.  This would have required teachers to engage in professional development and maintain their skills.  While the existence of schools full of  ‘bad’ teachers may be a media fuelled myth, this may have been one way of attempting to ensure that teachers remained skilled and competent.

The Conservatives opposed these measures, they claimed, because of the increased bureaucracy that is would bring, preferring de-regulation.  But, whether it is called bureaucracy or red tape, legislation serves to regulate, often for very good reasons.  Ideologies of individualism, which the Conservatives subscribe to are opposed to ‘red tape’ because it limits an individual’s freedom, and because it costs.  Other, collectivist ideologies argue that regulation is needed, precisely to limit an individual’s freedom, but for the collective good of society. 

However, one form of regulation, if not centralisation may remain, these are proposals which will allow Local Authorities and the Schools’ secretary to intervene where a school is failing to meet standards.  The Conservatives in the House of Lords may support this measure.  Strange, considering that when in Government they were keen to free up schools from Local Authority control.

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