New laws forcing more schools to become academies will not happen in this academic year. That’s about the only certainty in a week of seemingly abandoned plans.
It’s official. The Education for All bill is no more.
Or so almost everyone was proclaiming last week when a throwaway line in a statement from Justine Greening on technical education said there was no need for new laws to push the government’s full academisation agenda.
The education secretary told parliament that although it remained the government’s ambition that “all schools should benefit from the freedom and autonomy that academy status brings”, ministers did not need wider legislation “to make progress on our ambitious education agenda”.
But the proposals in the white paper never made it as far as a draft bill and so it is difficult to speculate about how many of its policies – if any – have been abandoned.
Changes to initial teacher training, for example, first mooted in the white paper, will go ahead through the introduction of new recruitment caps for certain subjects, while Schools Week understands that work on changes to teacher accreditation, including the potential scrapping of qualified teacher status, continues behind closed doors in Whitehall.
Work on changes to teacher accreditation, including the potential scrapping of qualified teacher status, continues behind closed doors
A promised teacher vacancy website could also be established without the need for any legislation.
Last week’s announcement did make clear, however, that new laws forcing more schools to become academies will not happen in this academic year.
Former education secretary Nicky Morgan, who created the white paper, said she was unhappy with the decision, but optimistic that her plan to force schools to become academies in areas where councils were struggling to support them might resurface.
“I am obviously disappointed that the opportunity to continue to raise standards is going to potentially be deferred by at least one session of parliament,” she told Schools Week.
“I think what’s happened is that they’ve got their green paper, they are consulting on that, so I wasn’t particularly surprised.”
The government issued a new consultation document, otherwise known as a green paper, in September, outlining plans to reintroduce schools that select by ability and faith.
Morgan said existing reforms, such as forcing coasting and failing schools to become academies, would still go ahead.
The first publication of school progress measures in the league tables this year also gave “a very clear sense” of where further action was needed.
Scrapping the bill has, however, created a potential financial gap.
In last year’s autumn statement, the chancellor scrapped the education services grant – a £600 million cash pot handed to councils each year to support schools – but the deal was based on an assumption that councils would gradually see their responsibilities for schools diminish as they all became academies, as outlined in the white paper.
Morgan said that her negotiations with the chancellor ahead of the budget were “predicated on the white paper being followed through, and all those reforms taking place.
There is now “no clear legislative vehicle” for several key reforms
“So that really is a matter for the government, that if it wants to put reforms on pause or change direction, it obviously has to think ‘how does that fit with the spending review decisions that have been taken?’”
Natalie Perera, executive director of the Education Policy Institute, said there was now “no clear legislative vehicle” for several key reforms.
“On one hand you have plans to cut the ESG entirely, but no vehicle for removing the remaining [education] duties from local authorities. You are effectively asking them to do the same with far less money.
“That calls into question whether we will end up by proxy with a situation where local authorities are encouraging their remaining schools to convert.
“If they find they can’t cope with supporting those schools because they no longer have the funding, then it’s quite feasible that they might start to nudge their remaining schools to go.”
Others remain sceptical about whether the bill’s end will mean a change direction for the government.
John Fowler, a parliamentary expert who advises the Local Government Information Unit, said continued assurances from ministers that the government still wanted all schools to become academies meant changes were still on the cards.
Fowler said the shelving “just bows to the inevitability of the parliamentary timetable”, and said he was convinced that the government was “still planning for full academisation”.
“In other words, no change in longer-term objectives. And [I expect] several massive bills over the next few years.”