Schools bill: Ministers want veto on academy trustees

New DfE documents reveal more about powers sought by ministers in schools bill

New DfE documents reveal more about powers sought by ministers in schools bill

27 May 2022, 9:00

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Academy trusts will have to seek government approval for trustee and member appointments, new documents on the schools bill reveal.

The government will also hand itself the power to chop and change new national standards for academies and rules on intervening in trusts – without passing new primary legislation.

The Department for Education published fresh details on how it will overhaul academy rules this week.

Trusts will need governance arrangements that “state no board members or trustees are appointed before the secretary of state has had an opportunity to assess their suitability”.

Sam Henson, policy director at the National Governance Association, said it “feels like a power grab”.

For appointments of chairs, trusts currently send proof to regulators of enhanced DBS checks, identity verification and extra checks on individuals who have lived abroad. Officials also confirm they are not banned from teaching or management.

But chairs themselves currently handle checks on other trustees, members and local governors.

NGA’s “assumption and hope” is the proposed reforms only expand current rules for chairs and members to all trustees.

‘Unnecessary bureaucracy at best’

But Henson added: “Extending this seems like unnecessary bureaucracy at best… If it’s anything more, we could potentially have a real issue.”

Governors already report delays when DfE countersigns chair appointments, prompting fears it could exacerbate recruitment challenges.

academy schools bill

“We’re not sure how the department has the capacity to do it for all,” Henson said.

The changes are among several in the schools bill sparking fears of ministerial overreach.

The draft schools bill, currently making its way through the House of Lords, is primary legislation.

But it will create “delegated powers” for the education secretary to make further changes through secondary legislation, which is easier to get through parliament.

These will include new changes to the academy standards, replacing funding agreements which currently differ depending on when they were signed.

Schools bill sets academy collaboration duty

However, the government said the new standards mostly consolidate existing duties in one place. But there are some new duties.

Trusts face a new duty to work “constructively with each other, local authorities and the wider public and third sectors”. They will have to “behave with civic responsibility, working broadly to benefit children in their communities”.

Meanwhile, a “minor change” to complaints-handling processes allows government to “assess the reasonableness of complaint decisions made by academy trusts”. They can already do this for local authority schools.

Standards will also cover areas including curriculum, welfare, cultural development, school day and term length, assessment, whistleblowing, premises, leadership, admissions and spending.

The DfE has said that any update to standards will be subject to a debate and affirmatory vote in both houses of parliament every time they are updated.

It pledged to consult with sector representatives on the first set of standards and “any subsequent changes”.

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