Education Bill

Memorandum submitted by Essex County Council (E 124)

Dear Sirs

As Essex County Council Cabinet Member for Education, I wish to make the following points on behalf of the County Council in response to the request for submissions concerning the new Education Bill.

· We broadly welcome the very positive emphasis on teacher recruitment and teaching standards that recognises the centrality of teaching to standards and progress.

· We agree with the strong emphasis on the need for English schools to improve standards compared to international competitors by strengthening the curriculum and encouraging a broader core of academic subjects for all students in both academic and vocational routes.

· We support the emphasis on school autonomy and schools being responsible for their own improvement, with targeted resources to deprived pupils through a Pupil Premium.

· We welcome and endorse emphasis on the role of LAs as champions of vulnerable children and young people, as well as the decision to give LAs a continuing role in channelling schools funding to maintained schools. However, we are concerned that there is little detail in how this will work in practice.

· We strongly support new approaches to permanent exclusions, with schools taking on the power, money and responsibility to secure alternative provision for excluded pupils. This builds on Essex County Council experience with our Behaviour and Attendance Partnerships.

· We agree with the proposal that the academic performance of excluded children be counted in the excluding school’s performance tables, although we recognise that this will be a disincentive to schools to admit potentially challenging pupils.

· We welcome the commitment to raising the participation age and to phasing in the enforcement process to avoid criminalising young people.

· We endorse the proposals for LAs’ continuing lead statutory role, working with local schools, colleges and other providers, to ensure that young people have access to a broad range of provision that meets their needs.

· We welcome the recognition that LAs should have a strong role in ensuring fair access to all local schools, including free schools and academies.

However, in addition to our support for the above, we do have a number of concerns about the proposals currently being considered by the Education Bill Committee.

· We disagree with the presumption that the only solution for underperforming schools is to transform them into Academies.

· We do not support the proposed establishment of a new Quango, the Education Funding Agency. We believe LAs are better placed to perform these functions.

· We would argue for a strong and continuing role for the LA, as champions of children and families, in intervening to secure effective leadership and governance for educational excellence.

· We believe that this role should also extend to Academies and free schools.

· We are concerned about where and how LAs will have the ability to intervene in school improvement to challenge complacent schools on behalf of the community to perform better.

· We believe LAs should have the right to promote/sponsor Academies and free schools to ensure the supply of high quality school places.

· We believe that the LA is best placed to facilitate and promote school-to-school support in partnership with ‘hub’ schools.

· While we support the establishment of new academies and free schools to provide more variety in provision to the educational landscape in Essex, we are concerned that the presumption that any new schools will be established as academies or free schools will impede the ability of the LA to ensure that this does not reduce the ability of local parents, education providers and LAs to respond quickly and effectively to new demand and maintain local choice and diversity of provision.

· We are very supportive of extended services and what they provide for children, parents, and the community. We would like to know how extended services will be maintained going forward.

· Although we have had the Green Paper on SEN, it is not clear how new funding arrangements could impact on children with SEN.

· There remains a lack of detail in crucial areas, such as vocational education pathways.

I hope that these comments are recognised by the Committee as part of Essex County Council’s continuing desire to work with central government to achieve the best possible outcomes for the children and young people of Essex.

April 2011