Washing-up the Education Bill

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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The Children, Schools and Families Bill

This Bill was introduced to the House of Commons on the 19th November this year. 

The bill sets out to reforms schools as well as other childrens’ services and sets out  a number of guarantees to parents and children as to what they can expect from the Schools system in the 21st century. 

In part, the Bill follows on from the Rose Review by implementing many of the recommendations found in that report and introduces curriculum reforms. No long will children be taught separate subjects, but the primary school curriculum will be divided into 6 areas.  So, for example skills in literacy and numeracy can be developed in a range of subjects such as history.  This is a move seen in other Western European countries, yet it hardly seems radical to apply the basic skills such as literacy and numeracy to an understanding of history, geography and mathematics. 

The national curriculum will  become less centralised, this having been a criticism of the National Curriculum as well as Labour Governments in general.  Although of course the National Curriculum came into force in 1988 under a Conservative administration, which had apparently rolled back the state.  Now, schools and teachers are to be trusted to make decisions on how best to teach subjects like Maths and English, although basic skills and knowledge are to underpin everything learnt in school.  While history is to be taught under a ‘historical, social and geographical’ theme, British history is  to become a feature of primary school pupil’s learning,    

The bill contains guarantees including a commitment to one-to-one tuition for pupils who are falling behind their peers.  Parents have a right to redress if such guarantees are not met, perhaps allowing greater ‘parentocracy’ and the inequalities associated with that.

Teachers will be subject to a license to practice and they will be required to demonstrate their fitness to teach at designated intervals.  This could be an attempt to tackle the ‘problem’ of incompetent teachers.  In fiction we have them in the form of Steph Haydock and  Grantly Budgen in Waterloo Road.  A ‘discourse of derision’ (as identified by Stephen Ball)  where the problem of incompetent teachers is evident in parts of the popular press  (see for example this article in the Daily Mail). Surely this development, introduced in this Bill is exactly what these critics want?

Another significant development arising from this new Bill is the introduction of a register of home educated pupils.  This can be seen as the state interfering in the private lives of those who wish to educate their children themselves, but yet is designed to protect children as in some case home education is used as a cover for child abuse.  Again, those who claim the Government should be doing more to protect vulnerable children will welcome this?

Independent Review of the Primary School Curriculum

Sir Jim Rose was asked to review the primary school curriculum, the  report was published on the 29th April 2009.  It has been described as the most fundamental review of the primary school curriculum in a decade.   As well as reviewing the curriculum, a number of recommendations are made.

The Independent Review of the Primary School Curriculum can be found here.