New Education bill confirms plans to target underperforming and unviable councils – Friday 20 May 2016

This week I report on the new Education for All bill outlined in the Queen’s Speech, the High Court ruling in favour of the father who took his daughter on holiday in term time and the end of Data Dashboards with the introduction of a new DfE school comparison tool.

Yesterday the Queen’s Speech clarified what legislation the Government intends to bring before Parliament, including an Education for All bill. The bill will confirm that not all maintained schools will have to become academies, only those in the worst performing local authorities and in local authorities where so many schools have already become academies that they cannot viably support the rest.

Although detail on how the Department for Education will define under-performance or unviability in councils is awaiting formal consultation and a vote in Parliament, the legislation will include a new duty on councils to “facilitate” the process of academy conversion, aimed at making it “swifter and smoother” for schools. Although details are still patchy, the Government is expected to publish guidance for local authorities and schools in due course.

Further to last week’s Update, the father from the Isle of Wight who took his daughter on a term-time holiday has won his case against the school and the subsequent appeal made by the local authority.

The rule that said children should not be taken out of school for holidays was not part of primary legislation and was determined by a Statutory Instrument (SI) issued by the Education Secretary in 2013. The High Court ruled that changing the regulations via a SI didn’t affect the 1996 Education Act’s obligation on parents to ensure their children attend schools regularly, and that in this case a child’s 94% attendance record constituted regularity. Some commentators have said that a possible definition of “regular” is 90% attendance because that is the threshold for persistent truancy. Given that the law states that a full year is 190 days, this would allow any child 19 days’ holiday a year, provided they had no other absence. The Government’s attendance target is 95%.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb told the House of Commons that the ruling in favour of the parent represented a “significant threat” to improving school attendance and that the Government will do “everything in its power” to ensure children are kept in school. A DfE spokesperson said that it would be looking to change the law and to strengthen statutory guidance to schools and local authorities.

Ofsted has decided to discontinue the School Data Dashboards which have been produced for the last three years, with the aim of giving Governing bodies key information on the standards achieved in the school. Ofsted will stop publishing them in September, but they have already been phased out as Ofsted didn’t populate them with the 2015 SATs and GCSE results.

A reason given for dropping the dashboards is the production by the DfE of a new tool, Compare School and College Performance which I reported on back in March. If you enter the name of a school, you are given headline performance information on its most recent Key Stage 2 SATs results if it is a primary school and the Key Stage 4 exams if it is a secondary. Information on the trend over three years is also given, together with key data on finance and the numbers of staff. The site offers a list of similar schools from across the country so that you can select any of these to see how its outcomes compare with your own school’s.