Schools Bill, Report Stage, House of Lords, 12 July 2022

While councils have a statutory duty to ensure there is a school place for every child, they are currently not able to direct academies to expand school places or admit individual pupils. We are seeking a commitment from Government redress this discrepancy between councils’ duties and powers as soon as reasonably possible, by providing councils with sufficient backstop powers to direct academies to expand school places and admit individual pupils, within six months of the Act passing.


Key messages 

  • Boosting education and tackling the attainment gap will be vital to levelling up the country. We welcome the Schools Bill and the preceding Schools White Paper, as a positive step towards tackling inequalities and ensuring every child has the right support to fulfil their potential. However, councils and maintained schools will need to be convinced that the ambition for every school to be an academy by 2030 and the corresponding structural reforms, will drive an improvement in school performance and outcomes.
  • We welcome the Bill’s provision to allow councils to set up and lead their own multi-academy trusts (MATs), which the LGA have long campaigned for. Councils have an excellent track record in providing a high-quality education for pupils, with 92 per cent of maintained schools rated by Ofsted as outstanding or good – a higher proportion than any other type of school. It is positive that pupils and their families will continue to benefit from this expertise in a fully academised school system.
  • While councils have a statutory duty to ensure there is a school place for every child, they are currently not able to direct academies to expand school places or admit individual pupils. We are seeking a commitment from Government redress this discrepancy between councils’ duties and powers as soon as reasonably possible, by providing councils with sufficient backstop powers to direct academies to expand school places and admit individual pupils, within six months of the Act passing.  
  • We disagree with the principle of Whitehall setting the budgets for over 24,000 schools’ budgets under the direct National Funding Formula (NFF). It is vital that the Government reconsiders and retains an element of local flexibility, to enable councils to best meet local education needs and deal with a range of school costs that cannot be adequately addressed through a formulaic approach. We want to work with Government to find a solution that adequately meets all local education costs and are calling for the Bill to be amended to and ensures no area or school loses out from the direct National Funding Formula.
  • We are pleased Government has listened to our calls and introduced a compulsory register of children who are not in school, to help ensure all children are receiving a suitable education in a safe environment. The register will be a positive step toward improving data and the visibility of all children who are out of school within a local area. However, we remain concerned that the register will not, in of itself, enable councils to verify whether a child is receiving an effective education or facilitate contact with parents to help identify where they may benefit from additional support.
  • The provisions on school attendance orders should be amended to clarify that they must only be issued when this is determined to be in the best interest of a child. When deciding whether to issue a school attendance order, it is vital that councils are empowered to take a holistic view every child’s needs and consider the impact that school attendance would have on a child’s overall wellbeing and health.
  • It is important that the reforms in the Bill and the Schools White Paper are delivered in a way that that supports the objectives of the SEND and Alternative Provision Green Paper to create a more inclusive mainstream school system in which all children can succeed. Numerous reviews and inquiries into the education system have found that the current performance and funding system does not incentivise or support schools to be inclusive or take responsibility for the needs of all children. It is vital that the Regulatory and Commissioning Review and the introduction of academy standards make progress in addressing this to reduce the number of exclusions, improve student wellbeing and ensure every child has the right support to thrive.

Power to direct

  • While councils have a statutory duty to plan local school places and ensure there is a local school place for every child that needs one, they currently do not have the power to direct academy trusts to expand their number of school places or admit individual pupils.
  • The Government has committed to consulting on a new statutory framework for pupil movement, which will introduce a new backstop power for local authorities to direct trusts to admit children ‘as a final safety net’, with the right for a MAT to appeal to the Schools Adjudicator.
  • While councils wait for this to be introduced, their ability to meet local needs will be increasingly undermined as more schools convert from local authority-maintained schools to academies. Moreover, councils currently have no powers to intervene and secure suitable school places for children who are out of school – for example children who have been permanently excluded or children with SEND – if all local academies who could meet their needs refuse to take them.
  • It is therefore imperative that the discrepancy between councils’ duties and powers on this issue is redressed as reasonably possible.

Direct national funding formula: Amendment 57, tabled by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, supported by Lord Shipley

In the event that the results of future Government consultations on the direct National Funding Formula conclude that local authorities would be best placed to determine and administer certain aspects of school funding, this amendment enables the Secretary of State to lay regulations to delegate responsibility for calculating and administering these aspects of funding to local authorities for schools within their area.

LGA view

  • We support this amendment. We disagree with the principle of Whitehall setting the budgets for over 24,000 schools’ budgets under the direct National Funding Formula (NFF). It is vital that the Government reconsiders and retains an element of local flexibility, to ensure councils can best meet local education needs and deal with a range of school costs that cannot be adequately addressed through a formulaic approach.
  • The government’s Fact Sheet document on the National Funding Formula reforms states that, ‘The government intends for schools’ NFF allocations to be determined, as far as is possible, by the Secretary of State at a national level. However, there may be some instances where the government is not be able to do this: for example, where this is related to specific roles and duties of local authorities, or where local authorities have better access to information that would allow them to determine the funding more accurately.’
  • The aspects of school funding that the government has identified that local authorities could be better placed to determine and administer include funding for Private Finance Initiative Schools (PFI) Schools and funding for schools with growing and falling school rolls. In their second stage consultation on the direct NFF, ‘Implementing the Direct NFF’, the government will be consulting on the approach to determining these aspects of school funding.
  • Councils are undoubtedly best-placed to continue their role in determining funding for schools with growing and falling pupil numbers due to their responsibility for school place planning. Through their direct relationship with maintained schools, councils can quickly respond to changing local circumstances and ensure schools do not fall into spiralling financial difficulties due to changes in pupil numbers and losses of national funding. Likewise, as PFI signatories for their maintained schools, councils have access to detailed PFI contract information and are best placed to assess the additional costs incurred through PFIs which are complex, highly variable, and could not be adequately captured through a national formula. 
  • It is therefore important that these functions continue to sit with councils.

School attendance orders: Amendment 91, tabled by Lord Shipley 

This amendment aims to clarify the provisions on school attendance orders to ensure that school attendance orders are only issued when in the opinion of the local authority this course of action is in the best interest of the child, in addition to being expedient.

LGA view

  • We support this amendment which clarifies that councils must only issue a school attendance order if school attendance is determined to be in the best interest of the child.
  • When issuing a school attendance order is vital that councils have discretion, working with parents, health and other partners, to take a holistic approach to every child’s needs and take into account the impact school attendance would have on a child’s overall wellbeing and health.

The out of school register: Amendment 71 tabled by Baroness Barran

This Government amendment would reduce the obligation on parents to provide information, on request from a local authority, in cases where the child is on the at home register.

As such, parents of children who are out of school or electively home-educated would only have a duty to provide councils with information prescribed in regulations under 436(1)(a) to (c). This is limited to the child’s name, date of birth and home address; the name and home address of each parent of the child; and such details of the means by which the child is being educated as may be prescribed.

LGA view

  • We support this amendment. It is important that the information and data that councils are required to collect from parents for the purpose of the register is proportionate and relevant. Therefore, we are pleased that prescribed information that parents must provide is delineated on the face of the Bill.

Consulting schools on academy orders: Amendment 33 and 34, tabled by Baroness Blower

Amendment 33 would ensure that a local authority cannot apply for an Academy order, unless it has the consent of the governing body of the school.

Amendment 34 would seek to ensure that before a local authority can apply to the Secretary of State for an Academy order to be made in respect of any of its maintained schools, the parents and staff of the school must be properly consulted.

LGA view

  • We support these amendments. Engaging and empowering school governors, staff and the wider community in decisions over their schools’ future is integral to securing buy-in for changes and delivering long-term positive outcomes for the school. 
  • Local education authorities (LEAs) maintain good relationships with their local schools and in most cases would consult with a school before applying for it to become an academy, as a matter of course. Therefore, we support a requirement for councils to consult with schools before applying for an Academy order.

Improving support for children who are out of school 

  • The LGA has long-called for a register of children not in school to ensure children are receiving a suitable education in a safe environment. The introduction of the register will be a positive step toward improving data and the visibility of all children who are out of school within a local area.  
  • However, we remain concerned that the information that parents will be required to provide for the register, in of itself, will not be sufficient to enable councils to verify whether a child is receiving a suitable education, identify where they may benefit from further support, or help to safeguard vulnerable children.
  • We recognise that the vast majority of parents who choose to educate their children at home provide a quality education designed to meet their child’s needs.
  • However, to improve support for children in situations where this is not the case, further measures should be considered. This could include providing councils with powers, backed up with the right resources, to meet in person with children who are out of school and their parents.
  • Further consideration should also be given to how councils will identify children who are out of school if their parents do not come forward to register them – particularly those who have never been on a school roll.  
  • In Health and Care Act, the Government committed to publishing a report within a year that will set out their proposals to improve data sharing for the purposes of safeguarding and child protection, including the proposal to introduce a unique identifying number for every child. Having a unique, consistent identifier for children will allow professionals interacting with children, including health, education and children’s social care, to share information easily, provide better care and prevent vulnerable children disappearing from the view of all services. We look forward engaging with Government on these proposals when the report is published.

Academy standards: creating inclusive schools 

The current school system is not working for all children, particularly those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Schools White Paper, which underpins the Bill, sets out the Governments proposals for reforming the schools system and ensure all children have equal opportunity to achieve their potential. The Levelling Up mission for schools is for 90 per of children to leave primary school having achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths by 2030, up from 65 per cent in 2019, and this will be the key measure of the White Paper’s success.  The Government aims to achieve this through driving high standards of curriculum, behaviour and attendance and providing targeted support for every child that needs it.

The LGA supports these ambitions. However, it is important that they are delivered in a way that that supports the objectives of the SEND and Alternative Provision Green Paper to create a more inclusive mainstream school system in which all children can succeed. Numerous reviews and inquiries into the education system have found that the current performance and funding system does not incentivise or support schools to be inclusive or take responsibility for the needs of all children, and it is vital that this is addressed. With academic attainment, behaviour and attendance as the core benchmarks of school performance, there is a risk that the Government’s reforms will continue to dis-incentivise schools from becoming more inclusive of children who do not, or cannot, meet these standards.

One lever Government has to ensure mainstream schools become more inclusive is through the new regulation framework for academy trusts. The Government has set out its intention to remove the clause 1-18 of the Bill, including provisions relating to the introduction of academy trust standards. The Government plans to use the Regulatory and Commissioning Review to develop reformed proposals for academy standards, which they will re-introduce in the House of Commons. It is vital that these standards support and enable schools to become more inclusive, meet children’s diverse needs and reduce the number of pupils excluded from school. We look forward to working with the Government on the detail of these proposals when they are brought forward.

More broadly, there are various other reforms that Government could consider to achieve these objectives, including recognising and rewarding greater curriculum breadth; rewarding schools for inclusive practice through the accountability system; investing in pastoral and mental health support and significantly developing trauma informed practice in schools.

Contact

Megan Edwards (she/her) Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser

Email: [email protected]