Academies, Politics

Zahawi guts his own schools bill in humiliating climbdown

The controversial new powers - including academy standards - will be revisited once a regulation review has concluded

The controversial new powers - including academy standards - will be revisited once a regulation review has concluded

Nadhim Zahawi has scrapped several clauses of his controversial schools bill in a humiliating climbdown following accusations of a Whitehall power-grab.

But ministers say they will come back with new proposals, insisting that new academy standards and intervention powers are “essential to secure the path to a system in which all schools can benefit from being part of strong multi academy trusts”.

In a letter to peers, academies minister Baroness Barran said the government would “remove clauses one to four and schedule one from the bill”.

schools bill
Barran’s letter

Clauses one to four relate to academy regulation and a proposed power for the government to set wide-ranging new standards for academies to follow.

Schedule one would have extended certain existing laws for maintained schools to academies, but removed academies from the scope of others.

The government will also support amendments seeking to remove clauses five to 18, which relate to how academy funding agreements are terminated.

However, Barran said the government would “bring forward revised proposals in the House of Commons”.

“Whilst taking the time to get these measures right is clearly the right way forward, the government is also clear that these measures are essential to secure the path to a system in which all schools can benefit from being part of strong multi academy trusts.”

The government’s regulatory review, launched yesterday, will be used “to develop revised clauses” that address “concerns” about the current bill.

Minister acknowledges ‘concerns’

It comes after peers, including former education secretaries and academies minister, lined up to criticise the bill. A group of Conservative peers also tabled amendments which would have stripped 16 clauses from the legislation.

In her letter, Barran acknowledged “that concerns have been expressed across the House regarding the clarity of the policy intent underpinning the academy standards provisions”.

A DfE spokesperson said the government remained “committed to the schools bill putting clear academy trust standards on a legal footing, and allowing for the government to intervene directly in the rare cases of academy trust failure”.

“The academy trust regulatory review, involving an expert advisory group and extensive sector engagement and running in parallel to the bill, will propose what the standards should be and how intervention should work.”

However, they said they were “listening to concerns from peers about how the provisions in the bill would operate in practice, and will make sure the bill protects and strengthens the fundamental freedoms academies enjoy”.

“That is why we are supporting the temporary removal of clauses 1-18 from the bill, in advance of bringing back revised clauses later in the bill’s passage through parliament.”

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said the “major climbdown” from Zahawi “confirms this chaotic government has no plan to drive-up standards in our schools and improve outcomes for our children”.

“Just days ago the schools minister told the Commons these were important provisions. Now the government has binned them. The Conservatives are in a mess trying to rush through laws to avoid scrutiny and distract from their own incompetence.”

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