Education Bill

Memorandum submitted by the NUS (E 28)

(i) Introduction

1. The National Union of Students (NUS) is a voluntary membership organisation which makes a real difference to the lives of students and its member students' unions. We are a confederation of 600 students' unions, amounting to more than 95 per cent of all higher and further education unions in the UK.

2. Through our member students' unions, we represent the interests of more than seven million students. Our mission is to promote, defend and extend the rights of students and to develop and champion strong students' unions, including those in further education colleagues to ensure learners’ interest are represented.

Executive summary

3. NUS welcomes the opportunity to give evidence to the Education Public Bill Committee and to outline our concerns its proposals and their potential impact.

4. NUS has a number of concerns about the Bill’s provisions, including:

· the extension of search powers over students

· careers guidance provision

· inspections of schools and further education colleagues

· 16-19 academies

· the abolition of the YPLA and accountability

· reform of higher education funding and finance

This submission outlines those concerns in the order in which they occur in the Bill.

Part 2: Discipline

This Part extends the power of members of staff at schools and further education institutions to search pupils without their consent for an item that has been, or is likely to be, used to commit an offence or cause injury to the pupil or another, or damage property, and to search for items banned under the school rules. It reforms the process for reviews of permanent exclusions. It also repeals the duty on schools to give 24 hours’ written notice of a detention to parents, and the duty on all schools to enter into a behaviour and attendance partnership with other schools in their area .

5. NUS is concerned by the considerable civil liberty issues in these new provisions, which would create difficulties for students as well as the staff expected to execute them. NUS is also concerned by the proposal to allow previous safeguards around same sex searching and never searching alone to be disregarded in an emergency situation. This will increase the vulnerability of pupils and of staff to allegations. These new powers risk putting both students and staff also risk undermining the trust relationship between them. If there is urgent cause for concern, particularly in respect of physical safety and potential harm, this should be a matter for the police or other relevant authorities.

6. NUS welcomes the requirement to use an independent career guidance service but would prefer a stipulation of qualified career professionals to ensure the quality of the service. We are concerned however that this independent status would not ensure impartiality, and that the proposed amendments to legislation relating to provision of careers advice and guidance does not go far enough to ensure that school pupils are apprised of all post-school options available to them, including academic and vocational courses, apprenticeships, and employment.

Part 4: Qualifications and the curriculum

This part amends legislation relating to provision of careers education and guidance and repeals the duty on local authorities, schools and governing bodies to secure access to the diploma entitlement for 16 to 18 year olds and pupils in the fourth key stage.

7. NUS is also keen to see learners involved in the shaping of the new All-Age Careers Service. We believe that detailed research should be carried out into the impact of information, advice and guidance services on socio-economic and employment outcomes of learners, as well as learners’ experiences of current IAG services.

8. The proposed repeal of the diploma entitlement is another step towards scrapping diplomas and the vocational education opportunities that they provided. Evidence suggests that learners who undertake a combination of vocational and academic disciplines whilst at school have more successful employment outcomes after level 3 than those learners who pursue a purely academic route. Whilst schools will still be able to offer the Diploma, there will be no requirement for them to do so, rendering at risk learners’ opportunities to combine vocational and academic study.

Part 5: Educational institutions: other institutions

This part provides for changes to the inspections framework for schools, and for the exemption of certain categories of school and further education institution from routine inspection by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. Where a school or further education institution asks Ofsted to carry out an inspection where such an inspection is not required, and Ofsted agrees to do so, this Part allows the Chief Inspector to charge the school or college for the cost of carrying out that inspection. It also makes changes to the inspection of boarding provision.

9. NUS believes that any changes to the inspection regime for those providers judged ‘outstanding’ should be complemented by a raft of measures to support poorly performing providers. Moreover, we are concerned about the long-term effects on learners, prospective learners and local communities of leaving better performing providers unchecked.

10. We are concerned that the further education sector continues to operate without a national independent complaints body, which would provide an additional safeguard in light of the proposed changes to the inspection regime.

Part 6: Academies

This Part amends Academies legislation. It allows the establishment of 16 to 19 Academies and alternative provision Academies and removes the requirement for Academies to have a specialism.

11. NUS is concerned that the existing array of 16-19 options, including school sixth forms, 16-19 further education colleges and general FE colleges may have to compete with institutions which may have preferential funding and government support. It has not been demonstrated that current arrangements for establishing post-compulsory provision are not adequate to meeting additional needs, or how proposed 16-19 academies might benefit students or communities.

Part 7: Post-16 education and training

This Part abolishes a further arm’s length body, the Young People’s Learning Agency for England (YPLA); it provides for the relevant functions of the YPLA to be transferred to the Secretary of State, and gives the necessary powers to make schemes for the transfer of staff from this body to the Secretary of State.

12. The YPLA is current broadly accountable to the further education sector, and it would be concerning if new structures of responsibility, a diminution of resources or staffing rendered its functions less so. NUS also questions whether further powers being centralised with the Secretary of State is a desirable alternative to the current arrangements, and would be keen to see the replication of the YPLA advisory board in any new funding body.

P art 8: Student Finance

This part includes measures that form part of a package of higher e d ucation reforms announced in an oral statement in the House of Commons on 3 November 2010 and later refined in a written statement on 8 December 2010, in response to the Browne Review. It will apply the tuition fees cap for full-time courses on a pro rata basis to part-time courses, and increases the cap on the interest rates that can be charged on new student loans.

13. NUS is concerned by proposals to move from the current real terms interest on student loans to a provision that would allow student loan interest rate payments to rise to near commercial levels in the market. This would mean no safeguards have been built in and could create a strong deterrent effect and would also mean that the highest earners pay less interest over all than other borrowers.

14. NUS is particularly concerned about the impact of changes to interest on student loans on Muslim students. In the Islamic faith, interest (riba) itself is prohibited.  Previous research undertaken by Universities UK has highlighted that Muslim students are more likely than many other groups to be debt averse, and are less likely to take out a student loan if they do undertake a course of higher education. This could have a negative effect on participation and we are concerned about the Government's lack of full consultation with Muslim students on this.

15. NUS supports the move to regulate part-time fees, which are currently uncapped and to bring them in line with arrangements for full-time undergraduate degrees, which should bring greater consistency in the treatment of students undertaking different modes of study.

February 2011