Education Bill outlines shake-up for England's schools

classroom scene The government is bringing in wide-ranging changes

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The government has set out further details of plans to overhaul England's schools system in its Education Bill.

The Bill paves the way for more types of schools to become academies, for reduced school inspections and for more intervention in failing schools.

Education Secretary Michael Gove says the changes will cut bureaucracy and give teachers the power to "restore order to the classroom".

Labour accuses the government of "going back to the 1950s".

Teaching unions say the Bill represents a "massive centralising of power".

Discipline

The Education Bill is wide-ranging and is largely based on the Education White Paper, which was published in November.

This gave details of plans to shake up the national curriculum, the exam and test system, teacher training, school funding and the ways in which schools are held accountable.

It also included further changes to enable the government to expand its free schools and academies policies.

An Academies Act, passed in the summer, paved the way for groups of parents, teachers and charities to set up their own "free schools", and for the expansion of the academies programme, under which schools are being encouraged to "opt out" of local authority control.

The new Bill says that if local authorities believe there is a need for a new school in their area, they "must seek proposals for the establishment of an academy". Free schools are also academies - independent schools directly funded by central government.

The changes also allows special schools and Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) to become academies and sets out the conditions for faith schools to take on this status.

PRUs educate children who have been expelled from mainstream schools and others in special circumstances such as teenage mothers.

The legislation also deals with the issue of land for academies and free schools, which has been recognised as a hurdle to the schemes.

It includes proposals which the Education Secretary Michael Gove says will give schools greater powers to discipline pupils and cut bureaucracy.

These include:

  • Increased search powers for heads - to include pornography and mobile telephones and any items banned by schools
  • The removal of the power of appeal panels to force schools to re-instate pupils they have expelled
  • The granting of anonymity to teachers who have been accused of misconduct by pupils
  • The extension of heads' powers to discipline pupils if they misbehave on the way to or from school
  • The granting of the power to schools to impose a detention without giving 24-hours' notice

Mr Gove said: "Under the last government, thousands of great people left the teaching profession because behaviour was out of control and they were forced to spend far too much time on paperwork.

"That's why we're taking action to restore discipline and reduce bureaucracy," he said.

"Teachers will be free to impose the penalties they need to keep order, and free from the red tape which swallows up teaching time, so they can get on with their first duty - raising standards."

Inspection changes

Other key changes include the Secretary of State taking more power to intervene in under-performing schools and the narrowing of the focus of Ofsted inspections.

Previously, inspectors measured schools in 27 categories but that is being reduced to four: pupil achievement, quality of teaching, leadership and management and the behaviour and safety of pupils.

Mr Gove said: "There are areas of Ofsted inspections, such as community cohesion or regulations governing what students bring in in their lunchboxes at lunchtime, which are entirely peripheral.

"One of the problems with Ofsted inspections is that they are asked to inspect and measure for things which, by definition, are hard to judge and not central to what schools are about."

The Bill exempts outstanding schools from routine Ofsted inspections - meaning one in five of England's schools will not be inspected unless problems are reported.

It also puts a duty on the exams regulator Ofqual to compare exam standards in England against those in the rest of the world and to ensure there is consistency in standards across comparable qualifications (i.e. that the same level of work is necessary).

The legislation transfers to the secretary of state for education responsibilities previously held by some quangos which are being abolished, including the school curriculum and teacher training.

This also includes the power to investigate allegations of misconduct by teachers and to ban them - work previously done by the General Teaching Council for England.

The Bill says the secretary of state will keep a list of people barred from teaching and that "this must be available for inspection by the public".

'Massive centralisation'

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers' union, said: "The Bill has all the hallmarks of being conceived by power junkies.

"The rhetoric surrounding the Bill is 'localism'. The reality is an unprecedented, massive centralisation of power."

The legislation will repeal many measures introduced under the Labour government, in what Mr Gove says is a drive to cut bureaucracy and put more power in the hands of schools and teachers.

It removes the duty on local authorities to provide opportunities for children to study for Diplomas - work-based qualifications brought in under Labour which were designed to bridge the gap between vocational and academic qualifications.

Maintained schools will no longer need to write and publish a "school profile", parents will not need to sign a home-school agreement on behaviour and attendance.

'Out of touch'

Labour's education spokesman Andy Burnham accused the government of going backwards.

"Michael Gove wants to take our schools back to the 1950s. It is an elitist, backward-looking vision that won't equip our children with the knowledge and skills they need for the modern world. Labour is committed to the highest academic standards, but Gove shows how out of touch he is when he prioritises Latin over ICT.

"National guarantees for parents will be replaced by a free-for-all. Gove will not even guarantee a qualified teacher in every classroom - free schools will be able to employ unqualified individuals to teach."

The Bill also includes a clause, added unexpectedly, which allows the government to set student loan interest rates higher for higher-earning graduates.

The government says this is because it needs the change to be in place before the new university funding regime - and higher tuition fees - come in in 2012.

From then, it says graduates earning more than £41,000 a year will be charged 3% interest plus inflation (RPI).

The Bill specifies that the Secretary of State has the power to raise interest rates, and these must be lower than those prevailing on the market, or equal to them but with better conditions.

The Million+ group of new universities said it gave the Secretary of State "free reign to set uncapped and commercial rates of interest".

The University and College Union accused the government of "ducking further scrutiny" and introducing a "stealth tax on learning".

The government says the new loan rates will help create a progressive system.

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