Government ‘not governing’ as schools policies in limbo

Schools Week analysis finds at least 21 policies promised for this year have yet to materialise

Schools Week analysis finds at least 21 policies promised for this year have yet to materialise


Ministers have been accused of giving up on governing after a Schools Week investigation found at least 21 policies promised for this year have yet to materialise.

The wide-ranging commitments relate to some of the year’s biggest policy reforms – including the SEND review and climate change action plan.

Kevin Courtney
Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney, the former joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the government “talks in the future tense about things that are going to happen around the Advanced British Standard and more maths teachers, but it’s failing [on] current pledges.

“It is not governing and education needs a general election to come sooner rather than later.”

Our analysis identified at least 89 policies promised to either start or be delivered by or during this year.

The Department for Education said it was unable to verify whether all the policies had been delivered, advising us to submit a freedom of information request.

After a comprehensive search of public records and speaking to experts, we found 21 policies that have not yet been delivered, with just days left before schools break up.

We were unable to find confirmation of the delivery of another 46 policies – meaning the true figure could be higher.

We found evidence that just 21 had been delivered.

Lack of action despite ‘warm words’

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, said the lack of progress “across a whole host of areas” showed a government that had consistently failed to prioritise education “despite sometimes warm words”.

We estimate 26 pledges from the SEND and AP improvement plan were due to happen this year. At least seven look to be delayed, while six have been fulfilled.

A public version of the new inclusion dashboards, to give parents improved transparency of local performance, has not launched. It was promised for autumn.

Likewise, non-statutory guidance on “outlining the full detail of the expectations” for new local SEND and AP partnerships has not surfaced.

Progress is not clear for 13 commitments, some of which are tied up in the reform-testing change programme.

Jo Hutchinson, the director for SEND at the Education Policy Institute, said schools and parents remained in the dark about the content of the new national standards.

Long-awaited guidance on transgender issues was due to be published this summer, but was pushed back to give the government “more time” to speak to teachers, parents, lawyers and other stakeholders.

Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, told MPs last week it would “hopefully” be published before Christmas, but it is still to appear.

White paper plans pushed back

The 2022 schools white paper said it expected all mainstream schools to work towards meeting the “expectation” of a 32.5 hour week by September 2023.

But this was delayed by a year over the summer. A cultural education plan was also meant to be published.

The DfE’s climate strategy was due to consult on the content of the new natural history GCSE this year, but this will not happen until “early 2024”.

“We’ve seen 10 different secretaries of state over the past 13 years, and a lack of clear, decisive action,” said Whiteman.

“This lack of progress is mirrored when it comes to detailed policies that were supposed to help schools further improve the support and education they offer pupils – the absence of urgent action in fixing the broken, under-funded, SEND system is particularly regrettable.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “This year has seen the department take school funding to its highest level in history, deliver the highest teacher pay award in 30 years, and publish groundbreaking reforms to provision for children with SEND, including announcing an increase in high-needs funding of 4.3 per cent for 2024-25.

“As ever, we want to deliver against all our commitments in a timely way, balancing this with business planning requirements, operational factors and a range of complex priorities.”

The 2023 policy pledges still not met

1.  Publish first SEND inclusion dashboards in autumn

2.  Issue local SEND and AP partnership guidance in autumn

3.  Announce new AP free schools in autumn

4.  Publish consultation response to EHCP timescale review

5.  Progress update from national SEND and AP implementation board

6.  Set up expert group to help develop AP framework

7.  Publish plan to increase primary attainment

8.  Publish guidance on equal access and offering two hours of PE per week

9.  Publish cultural education plan

10.Expectation of 32.5 hour week in schools

11. Launch pilot music progression fund

12. Consult on relationships, sex and health education review

13. Publish transgender guidance for schools in the summer

14. Consult on new natural history GCSE proposals

15. Publish framework to evaluate climate strategy impact

16. Develop primary science model curriculum

17. Start rolling out carbon literacy training for every school

18. Publish guidance on practical ways to reduce air pollution

19. Pilot new food curriculum

20. Pilot training for governors on a whole-school approach to food

21. Publish risk assessment of flood, overheating and water scarcity

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