Keystone's digest of the Schools Bill


The DfE released the new Schools Bill which outlines the government's plans to "help spread opportunity, level up the country and boost our economy". This follows on from the school's white paper which laid out the ambition to have all schools in a MAT by 2030. The draft bill compromises of 15 different sections, ranging from academy trust intervention powers to teacher misconduct. At well over 100 pages in total, it makes for a daunting read, which is why we've asked our experts to condense it down into a Keystone Digest.

Academy Trusts Standards

The government plans to implement a set of Academy Trust Standards, which will see the ATH being replaced with a set of regulations with accompanying statutory guidance. The primary aim of this is to simplify the current system as more and more schools join MATs.

As part of this, the government will create a 'rulebook' which sets out the requirements of trusts in way that is more accessible to all shareholders.

There will be new intervention powers which will give the government more powers to resolve failures in the governance or management of trusts, while still retaining trusts' autonomy.

What this means for you

We don't yet know what the updated statutory guide will set out, but we do hope that it will lead to a simplified financial and governance system for schools with fewer unnecessary hoops to jump through.

We believe the move towards setting Trust Standards is a good step for the sector, it will really help to determine what trusts should be doing, and to give visibility to those trusts that are making a difference to their schools. The devil is in the detail though in terms of how it is worked out, and we look forward to the consultation. 

Academy Trust Intervention Powers

The proposed intervention powers were expanded about in this section. If the new bill is passed, it will give the Secretary of State options to "proportionately and quickly" improve schools without moving them to a different MAT.

The new legislation will give the government the power to:

  • Issue a Notice to Improve
  • Impose Financial restrictions
  • Appoint trustees or replace trustees with an Interim Trust Board
  • Terminate funding agreements for trusts

What this means for you

Whilst the Government already has strong powers under an issued Notice to Improve, this goes further. Historic funding agreements were quite lenient in termination clauses, and we expect to see this being reduced to allow greater government intervention in a more speedy basis. This means that the imperative for remaining compliant with the aspects of the Academy Trust Handbook is ever greater. We recommend you use your Internal Scrutiny programme to give assurance over your current compliance levels on a range of issues.

Statutory Faith Protections for Academies with a Religious Character

Faith schools can be hesitant to join trusts due to fears that they will not be able to exercise their 'freedoms and protections'. The Schools Bill aims to protect faith schools in two ways:

  • The government will protect faith schools by allowing them to retain an equal level of governance to what they currently have as an LA school.
  • Giving faith schools the confidence that their ability to practice collective worship and administer religious education are protected in law.

What this means for you

We hope that this give those who work in schools with a religious character the confidence to convert into an academy if they wish. Whilst most trusts would protect the faith characteristics of a school joining them, this codification is helpful, but, in reality is not likely to change much practice on the ground. It is however, a welcome clarification.

Grammar Schools

There are currently 163 grammar schools in England, of which 75% are rated as outstanding by Ofsted. As all schools moved into a fully trust-led system, the government wants to keep grammar schools as the country's only state schools with an entrance exam. They plan to do this by:

  • Allowing parents to decide if existing grammar schools will keep their entrance exams
  • Ensure that future governments can change the protections on grammar schools without additional primary legislation
  • Align the regimes of both grammar and academy schools

What that means for you

Whilst there has been much impassioned debate, on both sides, regarding the impact of grammar schools, they're here to stay, and to stay selective, as long as parents vote to keep the exams. They can also exist as part of multi academy trusts. It's up to trust leaders to determine how to manage the mix of schools in the trust, and the interplay between them.

Local Authority Academisation Power

The Schools Bill lays out plans to give councils the power to apply for academy orders. They will need to consult the school's governing board and get the consent of the school's governors. If an order is issued, the LA and school governors must take "all reasonable steps" to convert.

What that means for you

Although it's true that LA schools could be 'forced' to convert, if the school cannot come to an agreement with a MAT, there is not set plan for what happens next. We would advise against unnecessary panic! Although, the intended direction of movement, for all schools to be part of a strong academy trust by 2030 is now laid clear in black and white.

Transfer of Land by Local Authorities

Many faith schools, mainly CoE or Catholic, are on pieces of land which was given to them or held in a trust. The Schools Bill aims to reassure these schools this special trust would still be intact if they choose to convert to an academy.

What that means for you

Currently, if a maintained faith school has to move school sites, the legal interest in the land goes to the trustees. However, once a school converts to an academy, the LA only has to provide land on a 125 year lease. The new legislation will mean that the LA must transfer the interest in the land to the trustees and the profits from selling the old site must be given back to the LA.

National Funding Formula Reforms

NFF will now be paid directly to schools, rather than sent to the LA, through a single national formula. There will also be a single formula for mainstream funding. Early years and high needs funding will remain in place.

What that means for you

The NFF has been coming for many years, and in various iterations. Paying directly to schools removes the ability for LAs to amend the funding formula allocated to the school, which notionally gives a 'fairer' distribution of funding across the country. 

Children Not in School

Parents are entitled to give their children an Elective Home Education, however there is not currently a register of which children are not at school – either through home education or absence. Councils in England will now have to establish and maintain a Children Not In School register. Parents will have to provide information for the CNIS register. If they do not a School Attendance Order can be issued.

Parents who choose to educate their children at home will be entitled be support from their local authority if they are registered.

What that means for you

We hope that this new national register will lead to greater safeguarding of children, with fewer children missing out on their education.

School Attendance

The Schools Bill has four sections to end 'long-standing patterns of absence'.

  • Duties for local authorities – the government plans to amend the Education Act 1996 to make LAs encourage regular attendance and reduce the number of long-term absences.
  • School attendance policies - these amendments will lay out what the policies must include and the expectations for pupils
  • Penalty notices – the Secretary of State will set penalties for truancy on a national level
  • Leaves of absence – the Secretary of State will be able to make regulations that relate to absence cover all kinds of schools

What this means for you

Policies around absences will become more standardised across the country.

Independent Educational Institutions Registration Requirements

Failure by independent schools to meet the independent school standards and/or the EYFS could result in the suspension of registration. During the suspension period, it would be a criminal offence to continue to educate or house children.

What this means for you

If you continue to run an independent school which has had the registration removed, you could face to up 6 months in prison and/or an unlimited fine. 

Independent Educational Institutions –De-registration appeals

The DfE will make the appeals process for independent schools de-registrations much shorter. This will prevent some schools from repeatedly failing, improving enough to re-register before dropping their standards again in a cycle. If a school has failed three inspections within six years, there will be an appeal, which will result in the school being closed if the appeal is unsuccessful.

What this means for you

The focus is on ensuring quality schools, and this will help to eliminate some of the negative stories we see about schools that struggle to deliver for their children. 

Independent Educational Institutions – Material Change

Independent schools will now need to inform the DfE if there is a change in:

  • proprietor
  • address
  • age range of pupils
  • maximum number of students
  • whether the institution is for male or female students or both
  • whether the institution provides accommodation for students

The DfE will also now work with schools to find possible solutions of they were to divert from their agreed material e.g. if the school has more pupils than its maximum registered number.

What this means for you

This largely ties in with the requirements for maintained schools and academies in terms of significant change notifications. We do not see a significant impact, but there should be greater visibility and transparency.

Teacher Misconduct

Under the Schools Bill, more people who work around children could be investigated and banned for misconduct, This will now include anyone who has taught in:

  • academies and free schools
  • local authority maintained schools
  • non-maintained special schools
  • independent schools
  • 6-19 academies
  • sixth form colleges
  • relevant youth accommodation
  • children's homes
  • further education colleges
  • post-16 institutions
  • independent teaching providers
  • Online teaching providers

What this means for you

Little impact for those working in schools already, but it is heartening to see greater safeguarding protections, and conduct standards being rolled out.

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