Government to define ‘underperforming’ councils with consultation and MPs vote – Friday 13 May 2016

This week I report on how the DfE is enduring another week of media attention with its announcement that a definition of ‘underperforming councils’ will be used to force schools to convert to academies, the High Court will rule on taking holidays in term time and test results for this year’s Key Stage 2 SPAG test were leaked to a journalist.

EDUCATION SECRETARY TO DEFINE ‘UNDERPERFORMING’S COUNCILS WITH CONSULTATION AND VOTE
The Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, stated in the House of Commons yesterday that the definition of “underperforming” councils that would be used to force schools to convert to academies would be set out in a consultation and put to a vote of MPs. She didn’t say when the consultation documents would be published but subjecting the definition to an affirmative resolution means it would need the support of a majority of MPs to become law.

The proposed new powers were announced last week as a compromise on the Government’s Education White Paper proposal to force all schools to convert to academies by 2022, which were widely criticised by school leaders and politicians, including those inside the Conservative party.

The Education Secretary had also sought to reassure schools that they would not be forced to join multi-academy trusts, instead saying she expected “most schools” to join local clusters.

HIGH COURT TO RULE ON TERM TIME HOLIDAYS
The case of a father who was fined £120 for taking his daughter on holiday during term time will be heard by the High Court today. Mr Platt was originally cleared by Isle of Wight magistrates who ruled he had no case to answer as his child still attended school regularly. However, Isle of Wight Council, who issue the fine, have pursued the case in the High Court to seek clarification on whether taking a seven-day absence amounts to regular attendance.

Mr Platt won his case in the Magistrates court after successfully arguing Section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996 required parents to ensure their children attended school “regularly” – but did not put restrictions on taking them on holidays in term time. Today’s High Court ruling could set a precedent for how cases are dealt with in the future and potentially a change in the law.

KEY STAGE 2 SATs TEST LEAKED THE DAY BEFORE IT WAS TAKEN
The Department for Education is blaming a “rogue marker” for leaking this year’s Key Stage 2 Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (SPAG) test to The Guardian, after the SATs paper and its answers were mistakenly uploaded onto a password-protected website by Pearson, the test supplier.

On Tuesday, Schools Minister Nick Gibb addressed Parliament about the leaked test and announced that the SPAG exam would go ahead because it had not been shared online or in the press. Pearson has apologised for the problem and is investigating. According to its Chief Executive, John Fallon, 102 markers had seen the paper in the four hours it was available but they were bound by confidentiality and had a duty not to share it.