Memorandum submitted by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) (CS 10)

 

Introduction

 

The purpose of this memorandum is to provide a commentary from the National Union of Teachers - the largest teachers' organisation in Europe - on the Children, Schools and Families Bill. The memorandum sets out the key proposals of importance to the Union and identifies to members of the Bill Committee areas where we believe clarification or amendments would be useful. These issues will be expanded upon in the NUT's oral evidence to the Bill Committee on 19 January 2010.

 

The NUT's main concerns

 

Pupil and parent guarantees (Clauses 1-3)

 

The Bill sets out pupil and parent guarantees. Every child will be entitled to personalised support and this will be matched by a parent guarantee to ensure that parents get what they need from the school system.

While the intentions behind many of the guarantees are positive, the NUT fears the Government has failed to appreciate that without the requisite funding and space in the curriculum they simply will not happen. For example, one to one tuition by qualified teachers can make a real difference but this requires sufficient funding being allocated to schools.

 

It is worrying, therefore, that the Impact Assessment on the Bill suggests that additional funding will not be made available to schools to deliver the guarantees. It states that 'funding is available in school budgets to fulfil the guarantees'[1].

 

In order to ensure that the guarantees do not raise unrealistic expectations amongst pupils, parents and school communities, the NUT would like to see the Bill amended to place a statutory duty on Government to audit the capacity of schools to deliver the guarantees, before they are introduced.

 

At clause 2, the Bill states that the Secretary of State must consult with whatever persons they think appropriate about any revisions to the guarantees. The NUT believes it would be desirable for a wide group of persons or bodies to be consulted and for the Bill to be amended to specify the following consultees that the Secretary of State must consider representations from: associations of local education authorities; local education authorities; bodies representing the interests of schools; bodies representing the interests of parents and pupils; and bodies representing the interests of teachers.

 

Clause 3 of the Bill details various ways in which complaints can be made to head teachers, governing bodies and local authorities regarding the guarantees. The explanatory notes to the Bill at paragraph 33 state that the guarantees will impose requirements "with mandatory force" on local authorities, governing bodies and schools.

 

NUT head teachers are concerned that without adequate resources or provision for staff training these proposals may leave schools vulnerable to litigious parents or over-eager lawyers who have misinterpreted the Government's intentions. The NUT is concerned that any breaches of the guarantees should not be treated as akin to breaches of statutory duty in the health and safety sphere granting persons distinct rights to legal action and monetary compensation. There are already well established and sufficient legal rights for families to take court action and obtain monetary compensation when this is justified under existing legislation.

 

It would also be helpful if reassurance could be provided to schools on the face of the Bill about how any unreasonable or vexatious complaints would be dealt with.

 

Parental satisfaction surveys (Clause 6)

 

The Bill places a requirement on local authorities in England 'to seek and assess parents' views on the provision of schools in their area'. If the survey identifies 'material parental dissatisfaction' with the provision, local authorities would be required to develop a 'response plan' in consultation with parents. This plan would be referred to the adjudicator if parental representations about it were not favourable.

 

Local authorities could face severe consequences as a result of the survey. The NUT is concerned that the Bill and explanatory notes do not set a minimum response rate for the initial survey of parental satisfaction. It would be ludicrous if a local authority was required to draw up a response plan if, for example, only 5% of parents responded to the survey. A low response rate should itself be treated as a lack of material dissatisfaction with existing provision.

 

The explanatory notes accompanying the Bill do refer to a 'sufficient number' and a threshold of unfavourable parental representations to the response plan. The NUT would like to see similar provisions added to the Bill for the initial survey to ensure that local authorities do not spend time and effort devising plans in response to the views of a small, unrepresentative number of dissatisfied parents.

 

The Department for Children, Schools and Families piloted parental satisfaction surveys in some local authorities between September and December 2009. It would be helpful if the findings of this pilot were made public by the Department at the earliest opportunity in order to assist Parliament's deliberations on the merits of introducing surveys more widely.

 

Special Educational Needs statements - right of appeal (Clause 8)

 

The NUT welcomes the proposed new right of appeal for parents in circumstances where, following a review of a statement of special educational needs (SEN), the local authority decides not to make any changes to the statement.

 

This proposal could be further strengthened by allowing the school at which the pupil has been taught to also appeal. The pupil's school will be well placed to know about the shortcomings or inadequacies of the SEN provision. In some cases, where the parents are unwilling to take an appeal to the SEN Tribunal it may be appropriate, and in the best interest of the pupil, for the school to be able to submit an appeal.

 

The curriculum (Clause 10)

 

In his review of the primary curriculum, Sir Jim Rose aimed to free primary schools from the constraints of overload and prescription and even sought to bring on board some of the work Robin Alexander was conducting in parallel via the Cambridge Review. However, the Government's refusal to allow Rose to review the impact of tests and performance tables on the Primary Curriculum unfortunately undermined much of Rose's work. It is extremely disappointing that the Government chose to completely ignore the much bolder recommendations for the reform of the primary curriculum made by the Cambridge Review Team.

 

Clause 10 of the Bill seeks to implement aspects of the Rose Review. It would amend the National Curriculum for England to introduce 'areas of learning' at primary level. The NUT's over-riding concern is that having Government specify areas of learning that must be studied, is far too top-down and will hinder their stated aim of delivering personalised learning. If personalised learning is to become a reality head teachers, under the direction of the governing body, should have the responsibility and freedom to develop areas of learning that will meet the individual and collective needs of children in their schools.

 

The NUT would also like to see the Bill amended to place a requirement on the Secretary of State to review the validity and viability of assessment arrangements from time to time. Such a requirement would be similar to existing reviews the Secretary of State is required to undertake, for example, on SEN provision.

 

Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (Clauses 11-12)

 

The Bill provides for the introduction of Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE) on a statutory footing.

 

While welcoming the Government's intentions the NUT will be concerned to ensure that before it is introduced, the Government carries out an evaluation of schools' capacity to deliver PSHE as a legal requirement.

 

Power to provide community facilities (Clause 15)

 

The Bill provides for school governing bodies in England to consider the introduction of community facilities once a year and would allow them to spend their delegated funding on the provision of such facilities. 

 

The NUT believes that this clause could be strengthened by including a requirement that the Secretary of State issues statutory guidance to governing bodies on dealing with applications from potential users which cause schools concern.

 

School improvement partners (Clause 19)

 

The Bill seeks to widen the remit of school improvement partners (SIPs). At present each maintained school has a SIP appointed by the local authority. Clause 19 provides for a SIP to not only give advice but also other 'prescribed services.

 

The NUT believes it would be desirable for this clause to be amended to introduce an appeals process for governing bodies, in the event that they consider a designated SIP to be unsuitable.

 

School Report Card (Clause 20)

 

The NUT has argued consistently that current school accountability mechanisms are unduly focused on pupils' academic performance data and should be more concerned with what schools do to support the development of the "whole child", especially since the introduction of Every Child Matters.

 

The Bill allows for the replacement of school achievement and attainment tables in England to be replaced by a School Report Card. The NUT is concerned to ensure that information gathered about schools under this clause, should be the subject of annual report to Parliament.

 

Although the proposed Report Card goes some way to address the NUT's long-standing concerns, it is still set within the context of a high-stakes, punitive inspection regime which is data driven. Rather than effect real change, by encouraging schools to focus on their wider responsibilities for pupils, there is a real danger that the introduction of the Report Card will simply reduce schools' work to a checklist of indicators, which does not capture or simply ignores the real work, often innovative, that schools have been doing for some time now to improve the life chances of their pupils.

 

Accurately reflecting information about the performance of schools across a wide range of activities is a very complex matter. Simplifying this complexity into a single score will inevitably only provide a very crude measure of performance. By publishing such data alongside the national benchmarks, OFSTED and DCSF would be encouraging simplistic comparisons to be made, with the public unaware of the "value added" of schools in challenging circumstances.

 

Had the School Report Card been proposed as a replacement for school performance tables, and as a trigger for an independent review of the current overlapping and contradictory school accountability system, then it would have been in contention for serious consideration. As it is, it appears to be both another burden and also a variant of the current school performance tables.

 

Constantly changing methods of measuring and reporting attainment does not automatically lead to improvement.

 

Schools causing concern: powers of Secretary of State (Clause 22)

 

Clause 22(4) would enable the Secretary of State to direct a local authority to close a school where it is eligible for intervention as a result of failing to comply with a performance, standards and safety warning notice, or where the school requires significant improvement, as well as where the school requires special measures. This would significantly increase the centralised power of the Secretary of State

 

The policy rationale behind it is that local authority failure to tackle underperformance needs to be redressed. The NUT has seen no evidence to suggest that local authorities are reluctant to use their existing powers. Even if such evidence existed, it is difficult to imagine how enabling the Secretary of State to direct a local authority to issue a warning notice would remedy such a problem.

 

Any decisions about the closure of local schools should be made locally by those professionals and elected representatives with the knowledge of local needs and circumstances.

 

Licence to Practise (Clause 23)

 

It is proposed that from September 2010 teachers will be required to have a licence to practise that will be renewed every five years.

 

The NUT can see no argument advanced by Government which justifies the introduction of the licence to practise for teachers. The Government has also failed to address the pressing need for greater availability and funding of professional development for teachers.

 

Currently the CPD offered at school level is patchy and uneven. The need to improve the availability of professional development for teachers in schools is a major issue on which a licence to practise is likely to have little or no impact other than angering the profession. In little over a month 17,500 teachers have completed a postcard or signed a petition[2] to the Secretary of State to express their concern about the proposed licence to practise.

 

Teachers are concerned because they are only too aware of the unevenness in availability of CPD. This is illustrated by the introduction of the Masters for Teaching and Learning (MTL). The first round is limited to newly qualified teachers and individual teachers in National Challenge Schools. No additional funding has been made available for mature teachers to take the MTL or its equivalent, despite the fact that teachers in the last 15 years of their careers, for example, receive a disproportionately small amount of professional development compared to their younger colleagues.

 

Basing the licence to practise on 'a teacher's recent record of professional practice' assumes a level playing field of funding and availability. As the evidence shows, this assumption is far from reality. There are, in particular, serious implications for part-time and supply teachers for whom access to CPD is even more difficult. Head teachers will have their own priorities for their schools, which may lead to an uneven distribution of opportunities to teachers, irrespective of the requirements of the performance management regulations.

 

The Government's 1998 Green Paper 'Teachers - Meeting the Challenge of Change' proposed a professional development strategy for teachers, which was introduced in 2001. It included a range of bursaries, CPD opportunities, Best Practice Research Scholarships and sabbaticals, which appeared to prefigure a range of funded CPD entitlements given directly to teachers. Lamentably the strategy ended in 2003, when the Government agreed to a demand that such ring-fenced funding should be absorbed into the distributed school's budget.

 

The NUT was, is and will be completely committed to the concept of a professional development entitlement for all teachers. It has long argued for such a strategy including a funded annual allocation for each individual teacher to spend on their own personal CPD and for the availability of regular sabbaticals. Indeed the NUT runs its own highly-regarded professional development programme for its members, which includes programmes with Masters Credits and full involvement with the GTCE's Teacher Learning Academy.

 

If despite teachers' objections the licence to practise is introduced, the NUT would be concerned to ensure that the General Teaching Council (who would administer the scheme) would have to give regard to whether or not a teacher has received a full entitlement to professional development as determined by their annual performance management reviews. In addition, any teacher that has not benefited from regular CPD on an annual basis should have a right of appeal against a licence to practise not being issued.

 

Protecting Children's Anonymity (Clauses 32-41)

 

There has been much criticism from the children's rights groups and the legal profession about the proposal in the Bill to allow the media greater access to family courts. The proposals undermine a key ethical principle of confidentiality underscoring the work of doctors and social workers - and in some cases teachers. When talking with children professionals will have to explain to them that the media may see any resulting report. This knowledge may affect the willingness of children to discuss fears and concerns, undermine their trust in adults and family courts and potentially leave them at risk of yet further harm. The NUT shares these concerns and would argue that protecting anonymity was necessary for the welfare of children involved in such proceedings.

 

Charitable status of Academy proprietors (Clause 42)

 

The NUT agrees with the Charity Commission that Academies should not be exempt from the requirement to register with Commission and would be supportive of the deletion of clause 42 in its entirety.

January 2010



[1] Page 6 - http://publications.dcsf.gov.uk/eOrderingDownload/CSF-Bill_Impact-Assessment.pdf

[2] http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/10167