Academies, ASCL Conference

Academy trust body instructed top lawyer over schools bill

Producing bill before regulatory review was completed was 'huge legislative error', says CST chief Leora Cruddas

Producing bill before regulatory review was completed was 'huge legislative error', says CST chief Leora Cruddas

Leora Cruddas

A membership organisation for academy trusts took on one of the country’s most senior lawyers for a potential challenge of the government’s ill-fated schools bill, its leader has revealed.

Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, told the annual conference of school leaders’ union ASCL yesterday that producing the bill before a review of trust regulation was a “huge legislative error”.

The schools bill, published last May, proposed new academy standards and sweeping additional powers over schools. By June it had already been watered-down following widespread criticism and a rebellion of Conservative peers. In December, it was ditched.

The CST was highly-critical of the schools bill, calling it an “extraordinary over-reach and centralisation of power”.

Cruddas, who sits on an expert group advising the government on its ongoing review of school accountability and regulation, told a fringe event at the conference in Birmingham that after reading the bill for the first time she “had heart failure”.

She immediately consulted Roger Inman, head of education at law firm Stone King, telling him she was “deeply worried”.

“By mid-morning, we’d instructed Queen’s Counsel. Now for colleagues in the room who know CST, you will know that that’s probably an unusual thing for us…we’d never done anything like that before.

“The reason that we did it is that we wanted to be on very, very secure legal ground, if we were going to challenge this bill. And, of course, the bill was challenged.

“It was challenged in the Lords very robustly by Lords on both sides of the house and by lots of different national organisations, including ASCL. So I think there was a general consensus that the bill wasn’t right.”

In the end though, the bill was scrapped.

Bill came along ‘too quickly’

Queen’s Counsel is a title for senior barristers or solicitor advocates considered experts in their field, typically taken on to represent clients in court.

Cruddas warned the slot in Parliamentary time for the bill came “too quickly” after the publication of the schools white paper.

“The promised regulatory review had not even been commissioned at that point.

“And so the parliamentary drafters drafted part one, which has to do with academy trust standards and new powers of intervention, as widely as possible. In order to, I think, narrow it down through the process of the regulatory review.

“That was, of course, a huge legislative error. And we lost the bill as a consequence of that error.”

But she insisted the end of the bill was “not the same as losing the white paper”, which set out ambitions for the school system, many of which did not require legislation.

However, Schools Week recently revealed that of the 42 main proposals from the Opportunity for All white paper, just 19 have been implemented or are still on track.

Among the dropped proposals is the ambition for all schools to be in academy trusts by 2030, and plans to let councils establish trusts.

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