DfE will ‘prioritise’ parts of shelved schools bill

Schools bill axed in current form with most academy legislation shelved, but ‘priority’ proposals like out-of-school register still on table

Schools bill axed in current form with most academy legislation shelved, but ‘priority’ proposals like out-of-school register still on table

7 Dec 2022, 10:25

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Gillian Keegan

Education secretary Gillian Keegan said she “remains committed” to the aims of the schools bill – despite ditching plans to legislate in the near-future.

The minister announced the controversial schools bill “will not progress in the third session” of parliament. This means it has been all but ditched in its current form.

However, officials still plan to prioritise pushing through legislation for some “priority” proposals in separate bills, as first revealed in October by Schools Week.

Keegan told education committee MPs today that the Department for Education “remains committed to the objectives” that underpinned the schools bill.

“We will be prioritising some aspects … of the bill as well to see what we can do.”

This means nearly all of the new proposed legislation relating to academies has been shelved.

Proposals included new “academy standards”, powers to terminate academy trusts – rather than just individual schools – and allowing councils to academise all their schools.

Government will look at doing as much of the academy plans as possible without new legislation, and the ongoing academy regulation review will continue.

Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, a member of the review’s advisory group, said the review would focus on “how we define a strong trust”.

She said CST’s position was that there is no “single way” to be strong.”It is very important that this work does not pin down the definition so that trusts have no room to give creative and innovative expression to what it means to be a strong trust so they can provide the very best education to children and young people.”

The DfE said it will still prioritise passing legislation proposed in the schools bill to remove barriers for faith schools to join trusts.

Keegan added: “A lot of the schools white paper is being implemented. It didn’t require legislation in many cases but we know there’s been interest in particular in a couple of areas around legislating for children not in school and a register.”

She said she knew the committee had been pushing for such changes, and it was “definitely a priority”.

But pressed by fellow Conservative MP Flick Drummond for a timescale for an out-of-school register to combat off-rolling and limited oversight of home education, Keegan said she could not “commit to dates or times”.

Responding to questions by the committee, Keegan suggested Russia’s war in Ukraine was partly to blame.

“Obviously there’s been a lot of things that we’ve had to focus on, and the need to provide economic stability and tackle the cost of living means the parliamentary time definitely has been reprioritised.

“We all know we had to do that because of the pandemic aftershocks, but also the war in Ukraine, and we needed to support families.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said he was “pleased” the bill had been dropped, but hoped “sensible” aspects including a crackdown on illegal schools would not be “lost entirely”.

The government was forced into a humiliating climbdown over its schools bill in June, with a revolt by peers and sector leaders over a Whitehall “power grab” leaving it up in the air ever since.

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