Government abandons the Schools Bill
It has been confirmed that the Schools Bill will be scrapped after facing months of opposition in parliament. Introduced to the House of Lords in May, the bill originally consisted of sixty-nine clauses, almost half of which related to the regulation of academies and trusts. However, eighteen clauses were removed after Lords raised concerns about the increase of powers to the secretary of state. The bill was due to progress with new proposals until this week, when the Education Secretary confirmed it will be dropped.
Speaking to the Commons Education Select Committee, Gillian Keegan explained that with the cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine, the government has had to focus on other priorities. However, she said that ministers remain committed to ‘the very many important objectives that underpinned the bill,’ emphasising that some of the ambitions set out in the Schools White Paper can still be achieved without legislation.
For example, Keegan said they will continue to prioritise the development of a register to identify children not in schools, as well as the need to remove barriers for faith schools trying to join multi-academy trusts. Union leaders agree that some elements of the bill should remain a priority, such as measures to strengthen safeguarding and crackdown on illegal schools. However, they seek further clarity on other proposals surrounding a longer school week and the “parent pledge,” arguing that ‘it is not helpful that schools do not know whether or not these are being progressed.’
A key part of the Schools Bill was the move towards a fully trust-led system. Whilst many of the proposals relating to academies have been shelved, the ongoing review into academy regulation will continue. Working with ministers as part of the review, Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts (CST), says that ‘our view is to work towards a single regulatory approach underpinned by a regulatory strategy […] we believe that there is not a single way of being a strong trust but that we can work towards a common definition of what good looks like.’
£500 million to improve energy efficiency in schools
The government is investing £500 million to help schools become more energy efficient. On average, this equates to £16,000 for every primary school and £42,000 for every secondary. This comes on top of the £1.8 billion in capital funding that has already been committed for upgrades to school buildings, as well as a further £2 billion boost to the schools budget over the next two years. Ministers hope that this will help schools to reduce costs as well as carbon emissions. Schools can expect to receive payments in December.
The government says this funding may be used to ‘install better heating controls, insulation to reduce heat loss from pipes or switching to energy efficient lighting like LEDs.’ However, ministers recognise that schools and colleges know their local circumstances best, so it is up to them to choose how to invest. Schools may even use the funding for other capital projects, but not for salaries or operational costs.
The government has also published new guidance for schools and colleges to help them improve energy efficiency. This advises schools on how to understand their energy usage and make plans to reduce their consumption through investments and behavioural changes.
Over the winter months, schools will continue to benefit from the Energy Bill Relief Scheme (EBRS), however this is due to end in April. Geoff Barton, general secretary for the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), says that the £500 million investment is ‘welcome but it will not pay energy bills in the immediate future.’ He warns that investing in energy efficiency upgrades is a long-term solution, and so removing the EBRS may result in cuts to educational provision.
New insights into the teacher recruitment and retention crisis
Data from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) reveals key insights about the current teacher recruitment and retention challenges, as researchers hope to provide policy-makers with the information they need to respond to the growing crisis. Working in partnership with the NFER, Dr Emily Tanner, Education Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation, says the data indicates that ‘the quality of education that students receive varies according to where they live and the type of school they attend. Widening access to this data is an important step in achieving positive change.’
Research shows that subjects in which the government has struggled to meet teacher training targets are also among those that see the highest rates of early-career teachers leaving the profession. At a rate of more than 15 percent, teachers of modern foreign languages (MFL) and computer science were the most likely to leave the state-funded sector within the first five years of qualifying. This reflects trends in the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) data, which shows that the government recruited just 34 percent of their target for MFL and only 30 percent for computing.
Schools with the highest proportion of pupils on free school meals (FSM) were more likely to see teachers leave the sector at a rate of 9.5 percent, compared to 7.1 percent for those with the lowest proportion of pupils on FSM. Disadvantaged schools also had higher teacher turnover and vacancy rates, and spent more money on supply teachers.
Similarly, schools with a poorer-intake struggled to recruit teachers with degrees relevant to their subject. For example, in schools with the highest levels of FSM, 9.1 percent of science hours were taught by teachers without the relevant degree, compared to just 5.4 percent in schools with a lower proportion of FSM. Similar disparities were seen in other subjects, including English, maths, history and geography. Jack Worth, lead economist at the NFER, says that deploying non-specialists is likely to have negative implications for the quality of pupils’ learning, as ‘having deep and fluent knowledge and flexible understanding of the content you are teaching is an important element of effective teaching.’
Interestingly, there was little discernible difference between the teacher shortage issues facing schools in Education Investment Areas (EIA) and other parts of the country. For example, the rate of early-career secondary teachers who left the state-funded sector in 2020 was 11.5 percent in EIAs and 12.3 percent in other areas. Researchers recommend that the financial incentives that have been offered to shortage-subject teachers in EIAs are applied nationwide to further boost retention rates. It is hoped that further plans are put in place to address gaps in the teacher workforce and, ultimately, pupil attainment.
At a time of so much uncertainty and upheaval, it can feel almost impossible to plan for the future.
At One Education, we are committed to ensuring that school leaders and governors have all the tools and information they need to effectively steer the strategic direction of your school and deliver the best possible outcomes for your pupils.
Please get in touch to discuss the needs and requirements of your school. As always, our team is more than happy to help.