Education Bill

Memorandum submitted by Calderdale Council’s Children and Young People Scrutiny Panel (E 114)

1. The Children and Young People Scrutiny Panel of Calderdale Council met on 22nd March 2011 to discuss the implications of the Education Bill and wish to submit evidence to the bill committee.

2. Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council covers part of the South Pennines and includes the towns of Brighouse, Elland, Halifax, Hebden Bridge, Sowerby Bridge and Todmorden, and also numerous other villages and settlements. The October 2010 School Census indicated that we have 33,714 pupils spread across 100 schools (86 primary, 14 secondary). This includes one secondary special school and two primary special schools.

3. Our scrutiny panel consists of 7 elected members from the 3 largest party groups (3 Conservative, 2 Liberal Democrat and 2 Labour) plus co-opted members representing faith groups, parent governors and the teachers’ federation.

4. The following are the views and concerns expressed by members of the panel at their meeting. Whilst consensus is always a desired scrutiny outcome, not every member of the panel will necessarily concur with all the views expressed in this submission.

General Overview of the Bill

5. There are areas of the Bill which are welcomed and areas which cause concern. The Bill is seen to be complex but lacking cohesion. In part, this is due to much of the Bill being comprised of amendments to previous legislation.

6. There are concerns that the proposals take many things away without stipulating what might replace them. Much of the Bill is seen as retrograde in its approach and has the potential to set school against school. We also note, with regret, that the emphasis of the bill is on teaching rather than learning.

7. There are numerous proposals in the Bill whereby powers and responsibilities will revert or pass to the Secretary of State. This is contrary to the accepted wisdom of decades of governments of all political persuasions: that responsibility for the provision of education should be devolved to local authorities and schools working together to ensure that the needs of both neighbourhoods and the wider locality are met. A civil servant in Whitehall, however well intentioned, can only be expected to have a remote understanding of the needs of a locality. To make the argument that the quality of decision making will improve by taking those decisions centrally is difficult to sustain.

8. The proposals will result in a much greater onus on partnership working. Whilst we welcome this as a general principle, it must also be accepted that the proposals with regard to academies and free schools will effectively remove the local authority as a contributing partner in many cases.

9. Below are comments relating to individual clauses within the Bill.

Part 2 – Discipline

10. As a general comment, we feel the overall proposals in relation to behaviour are negative. The focus is very much on discipline and the view of panel members is that this needs to be rebalanced to take into account the pastoral care role of a school.

11. Clauses 2 and 3 We do have concerns about the potential pressure on schools and individual teachers that the increased powers to search may have – teachers having to take on ‘policing’ roles, potential to damage relationships between staff and young people, increased likelihood of litigation, etc.

12. Additionally, although not in the Bill, the proposals to extend Head teachers’ powers beyond the school gates imply an authority and duty which we do not believe exists.

13. Clause 4 No one thinks a violent pupil should remain in school but head teachers already have the power to exclude such pupils. If a parent is adamant that their child returns to the school they can still go for a judicial review so this power will not necessarily resolve the issue.

14. Clause 5 Although the panel recognise that no-notice detentions are not a prescriptive power, there is still a worry that within a semi-rural area such as Calderdale, which also has significant deprivation, a number of problems can arise by the permissive use of this power.

15. Firstly, no-notice detention could result in a child finding themselves with no transport home. This issue has already been raised in oral evidence given to the Education Select Committee with reference to specifically rural areas. However, many of our children in urban and semi-rural areas have significant travel distances with often poor public transport options.

16. Secondly, some children also have caring responsibilities which would be jeopardised by no notice detentions.

Part 3 – School Workforce

17. Clause13 While we support anonymity for teachers until a charge has been made, it is also of vital importance that any allegations are kept as confidential as possible at the school and local authority level. If false or misleading information and rumours are circulated in the school community about a teacher the long lasting impact on innocent teachers can be devastating.

Part 5 – Educational institutions: other provisions

18. Clause 33 The proposals for school improvement will see important requirements lost and not replaced. Schools alone cannot be expected to undertake all the requirements.

19. Clause 34 This removes the duty on local authorities to establish an admission forum. We have concerns about the demise of admission forums. How will this improve fair admission procedures?

20. Clause 37 Schools will become less democratically accountable in how they are run with the removal of the need to have staff, local authority appointed and community governors. The existing representatives on the governing bodies are used to good effect, especially to fill skills gaps in the Governing Body. Reducing numbers will reduce potentially expert contributions and weaken the democratic effect of the stakeholder model

21. The Bill also undermines the role of the local authority by lessening its role in the oversight of admissions and weakens the role of the Schools Adjudicator. This is of particular concern given the Government’s intention to expand the number of Academies and Free Schools and will make them even less responsive and accountable in terms of both admissions and complaints.  

22. Clause 44 This repeals parents’ powers to complain to the Local Commissioner. This is another example of less democratic oversight and scrutiny of schools/academies.

23. Clause 45 This will create the framework for a National Funding Formula. Whilst appreciating that a consultation is expected on this, the lack of clarity at this stage with regard to an implementation timescale will lead to programme planning difficulties.

April 2011