The Schools White Paper – What We’ve Learned
We look here at the key highlights from the latest schools white paper, setting out the government’s policy and legislative proposals for the sector
On 28 March 2022, the government published its latest schools white paper ‘Opportunity for all: strong schools with great teachers for your child’. Although wide-ranging, the paper does leave you (like some books) wanting more as some of the proposals await consultation or are to be developed with the sector. That said, we can see the direction of travel.
We summarise the key highlights below, so that schools and trusts know what to expect.
By 2030 …
90% of children leaving primary school will achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, while the GCSE average grade in English and maths will be 5.
The minimum expected length of the school week in all mainstream state-funded schools will be 32.5 hours by September 2023, with the costs met from existing budgets. The impact on schools and trusts will vary depending on the length of their current week.
Behaviour, suspension and exclusion
The DfE will revise the Behaviour in Schools guidance and statutory Suspension and Permanent Exclusion guidance to provide more practical support to school leaders. This is expected given the focus of Conservative governments on empowering headteachers.
The DfE will introduce legislation to create new statutory guidance on attendance, including a requirement for every school to publish a clear attendance policy. The legislation will also help identify vulnerable children at risk of being lost to education and will establish a register for children not in school.
Subject to the results of its consultation on measures to improve consistency of attendance support and management, the DfE will also set new statutory expectations of local authority attendance services, with schools and local authorities working closely to re-engage children missing more than 50% of their sessions in school.
These would appear to be welcome developments to help safeguard those most at risk.
Meanwhile, the DfE will consult on giving local authorities the power to object to the Schools Adjudicator about a school’s Published Admissions Number if an increase is required to provide sufficient places and no suitable school otherwise agrees to provide them. Further, the DfE will consult on a new power for local authorities to direct trusts to admit children, with trusts able to appeal this to the Schools Adjudicator.
The DfE will also work with local authorities, trusts, schools and parents to develop options to reform the admissions framework, including the setting of over-subscription criteria, and will consult on a statutory framework so that all placements are made in the best interests of the child, especially the most vulnerable like children in need. Given the recent update to the School Admissions Code, one might have expected these changes to have been addressed before now.
The DfE will introduce a range of measures to improve the sharing of information between organisations working with vulnerable children, including data and intelligence about attendance, exclusions and those removed from school rolls. Subject to the detail, these would again appear to be welcome developments to help safeguard the vulnerable. Schools and trusts will need to consider the new measures in the context of their wider data protection obligations.
The DfE will continue to support Ofsted’s work to scrutinise and challenge off-rolling and will clarify the rules on how and when children should move between education settings, including alternative provision.
Local Safeguarding Partnerships will also commission audits every three years, to ensure school policies are consistent with local safeguarding arrangements and trust standards.
RSHE and KCSIE guidance
In this regard, the DfE will strengthen Relationships, Sex and Health Education and the Keeping Children Safe in Education statutory guidance to support schools in protecting children from abuse and exploitation inside and outside of school.
The DfE wants all schools to be in or joining a strong trust by 2030 and will engage with the sector on how best to achieve a fully trust led system. A new Regions Group will work with local partners to develop plans which achieve this, based on local dialogue about which collaborations will best serve the interests of children and parents.
The DfE expects that most trusts will be on a trajectory to either serve a minimum of 7,500 pupils or run at least 10 schools. While there will be no maximum size, the DfE will limit the proportion of schools in a local area that can be run by an individual trust.
The DfE will launch a new Chief Executive Officer development programme for established leaders, such as executive headteachers and senior staff in trusts.
For the first time, the DfE will provide a ‘strong trust’ definition, with trust performance against the definition and trust standards being the basis for transparent assessments of their potential for growth. It would appear that the definition covers
- High Quality and Inclusive Education
- School Improvement
- Strategic Governance
- Financial Management
However, given the stated intention to provide a definition, this needs clarifying.
The DfE will consult on the exceptional circumstances in which a good school could request that the regulator agrees to the school moving to a stronger trust.
The DfE will also consult on moving schools that have received two consecutive below ‘Good’ judgements from Ofsted into strong trusts to tackle underperformance.
Church and faith schools
The DfE will introduce legislation to ensure that the statutory freedoms and protections applying to Church and faith maintained schools also apply to academies with a religious character.
The DfE will also develop options for financial support, to allow strong Church and faith trusts to further improve high standards in their schools.
The DFE will continue the presumption against closure of rural schools.
16-19 free schools
The DfE will open a targeted number of high quality, academically focused 16-19 free schools in Priority and other Education Investment Areas.
Local authorities will be able to establish trusts where too few strong trusts exist. These trusts will be regulated in the same way as any other trusts, with safeguards implemented to effectively manage any potential for conflicts of interest and limit local authority involvement on the board. Given the 19.9% restriction on the number of local authority associated persons who may be members or trustees, before local authority control provisions under the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 take effect, it will be interesting to see how the DfE proposes to manage this renaissance in the role of the local authority since the academies programme under the last Labour government.
Meanwhile, the DfE will introduce new powers to enable the Secretary of State to bring a local authority’s maintained schools into the academy system where a local authority has requested this as part of their local strategic plans.
Notwithstanding the above, local authorities will remain at the heart of the system, championing all children in their area, with new powers to match their responsibilities.
The DfE also considers that trusts should have local governance arrangements for their schools, so that they continue to be responsive to parents and local communities, and will discuss how to implement this with the sector. Given the requirement in the latest DfE model articles for local governing bodies to have a minimum of two parent governors, it would appear that the DfE would like to go further, to ensure local accountability.
In the short term, the DfE proposes to collate the existing legal requirements on trusts – in legislation and their funding agreements – into statutory academy trust standards. These standards will enable the DfE to tackle any trust which fails to achieve the expected outcomes. This exercise will not be insignificant, given the expanse of applicable legislation, but will ensure all trusts are bound by the same provisions, rather than having trusts on different DfE model funding agreements.
For the longer term, the DfE will launch a regulatory review in May 2022, looking at accountability and regulation including how trusts will be held to account through inspection in the future.
New collaborative standard
The DfE expects all actors in the system, including trusts and local authorities, to collaborate to ensure the best outcomes for their communities. This includes cooperating in key delivery areas like admissions and attendance, but it is also about a wider civic responsibility. The DfE will therefore introduce a new collaborative standard – one of the new statutory academy trust standards – requiring that trusts work constructively with each other, their local authorities and the wider public and third sectors. The DfE will engage with the sector as it develops the detail.
The DfE will establish a new Regions Group by summer 2022, bringing together functions currently distributed across the DfE and the ESFA. The Group will consist of nine regions, aligned to the geographies used across the rest of government, with RSCs known as Regional Directors.
National Funding Formula
The DfE will transition to using the formula to set each school’s budget directly, without local amendment. The DfE will consult in the autumn on the details.
The DfE will introduce new transparency measures so that parents know how the flexibility to pool schools funds is used by their trust.
IT and connectivity
Finally, the DfE will work with commercial providers to accelerate gigabit capable broadband rollout so that all schools have access to a high-speed connection by 2025. The DfE will also set out the core technology it expects schools to have, by publishing new digital, data and technology standards.
White papers are intended to set out the Government’s policy and legislative proposals. However, whilst the schools white paper headlines a range of areas for future focus, it lacks the detail needed to properly assess the proposals. We’re therefore left needing further information before we can gauge what the white paper really means for schools and trusts.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article further, please contact Graham Shaw on 0113 244 6100.
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The information in this article is necessarily of a general nature. The law stated is correct at the date (stated above) this article was first posted to our website. Specific advice should be sought for specific situations. If you have any queries or need any legal advice please feel free to contact Wrigleys Solicitors