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Schools White Paper, 28 March 2022

On 28 March the Government published the ‘Opportunity for all Strong schools with great teachers for your child’ White Paper.

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On 28 March the Government published the ‘Opportunity for all Strong schools with great teachers for your child’ White Paper. The White Paper sets out proposed reforms to the education system focussed on providing an excellent teacher for every child, delivering high standards of curriculum, behaviour and attendance, targeted support for every child that needs it and; a stronger and fairer school system.

The LGA published an initial media statement responding to the publication of the White Paper.

Overall LGA position

Councils have a crucial role to play in education, from ensuring every child has a school place to turning around struggling schools, and as they showed when providing vital support to schools during the pandemic.

We are pleased that the Government recognise that the existing education system is fragmented and councils have a continued role at the centre of local education systems with powers to match their duties around place-planning and ensuring pupils out of school return to the classroom as soon as possible.

Allowing councils to set up and lead their own Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) is also welcome. This is something councils and the LGA have campaigned to achieve for a number of years. This should be on offer in every area where that is the preference of schools and parents. We are pleased that the Department for Education (DfE) recognises that 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 – and that this will continue in a fully-academised system. The Department should also utilise this expertise while the proposals set out in the White Paper are implemented and allow councils to support ‘orphan’ schools where Regional Schools Commissioners are struggling to find a strong MAT to take them on.

It is also good councils are to be given powers to direct all schools, including academies, to admit pupils that are out-of-school and make sure they are back in the classroom as quickly as possible.

The proposal to introduce a duty on parents to register home-schooled children with their local council in response to concerns expressed by the LGA and our members over a number of years is welcome.

The LGA supports the focus on helping all children meet their potential with the right support at the right time, particularly in the context of the impact of the pandemic and the Department’s education recovery package. The amount of funding made available to support this package must also be kept under review to ensure every child is supported to recover from the impact of the pandemic on their education and broader development and well-being. Additional support to keep children with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) in mainstream settings will also be crucial to the success of a reformed SEND system, as set out in the SEND Green Paper.

With sufficient powers and funding councils are ideally placed to act as the ‘middle tier’ between central government and schools, bringing together place-based leadership, an existing duty to promote wellbeing of all children and; synergies with wider roles including safeguarding, public health, criminal justice, employment, skills and cohesion.

We look forward to working with the DfE to make sure we provide an education system that is inclusive and works for all children, including those with special educational needs.

Chapter 1: an excellent teacher for every child (page 16)

The Government will deliver:

  • 500,000 teacher training and development opportunities by 2024, giving all teachers and school leaders access to world-class, evidence-based training and professional development at every stage of their career.
  • Specialist training to drive better literacy through a new National Professional Qualification for Leading Literacy; a new National Professional Qualification for Early Years Leadership; and up to £180 million investment in the early years workforce, including training for early years practitioners to support literacy and numeracy teaching.
  • £30,000 starting salaries to attract and retain the very best teachers – with additional incentives to work in the schools with the most need.

LGA view:

We welcome the commitment to provide 500,000 training opportunities, as is the confirmation of the continued suite of National Professional Qualifications and Early Career’s Framework. 

The LGA supports the ambition to move towards £30,000 starting salaries to attract and retain the very best teachers (page 16). However, the LGA supports the position of NEOST (the National Employers Organisation for School Teachers) that this policy should be seen in a wider context, to support the sufficient future supply and retention of all teachers and school leaders.

The White Paper is silent with regards to the workforce framework contained in the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD). These are statutory provisions which apply to all maintained schools and our research shows the majority of academies trust schools also follow the STPCD to a large extent. This demonstrates there is significant consensus about the benefits of a national pay and conditions framework.

We will deliver the biggest ever early years training programme (page 22)

We support the recognition of the importance of the early years in this paper as it provides the foundations for children to thrive throughout their lives, breaks the cycle of disadvantage and improves social mobility. Given this importance and the need to see the early years sector not only as childcare, but as educators, it would have been useful to see further detail on how the early years sector fits within the wider education system. There is urgent need for a clear vision for the early years sector, particularly around funding and support for maintained nurseries. The paper rightly recognises the importance of providing support and focusing on training for staff in the early years sector. However, this is on the backdrop of a sector that is experiencing significant challenges in retaining experienced staff due to the pressures the workforce are experiencing, exacerbated by COVID-19.

Providing choice to parents is essential, particularly given the cost that many families are experiencing with childcare. However, support for children in more deprived areas needs to also be a focus. There has been an increased rate of closures of early years settings in more deprived areas with some large nursery chains are deliberately targeting their operations in wealthier areas. The LGA has highlighted that early years entitlements are underfunded and that the early years sector needs to be properly resourced to support the Government’s ambitions set out in this paper, therefore consideration of a wider review of early years funding is needed.  

Chapter 2: delivering high standards of curriculum, behaviour and attendance (page 24)

The Government will deliver:

  • A new arms-length curriculum body that works with teachers across the country to co-create free, optional, adaptable digital curriculum resources, supporting schools to deliver rigorous, high-quality curricula.
  • A richer, longer average school week which makes the most effective use of time in school and ensures children enjoy a rounded education.
  • Better behaviour and higher attendance through more effective use of data, including an annual behaviour survey and a national data system, to drive up attendance and make it easier for agencies to protect vulnerable children.

We will work with schools and local authorities to improve attendance (page 32)

The LGA shares the Department view that good attendance at school plays a vital role in children’s development and for their wellbeing. In our response to the recent consultation on improving consistency of support for school attendance, we set out our support for proposals to introduce a set of minimum expectations developed in consultation with councils. Any new national framework needs to provide clarity for parents, take full account of the discretion given to head teachers to initiate formal legal intervention and should encourage preventative intervention for long-term absence issues.

The LGA has called repeatedly for a duty on parents to register home-schooled children with their local council we therefore welcome the proposal to bring forward legislation that will create such a register. Many parents are willing to work with their local councils, but in cases where parents are unwilling to engage, councils need powers to enter the homes of, or otherwise see, children in order to establish whether they are receiving a suitable education and meet their duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. A duty on parents to register home-schooled children with their local authority would help councils to monitor how children are being educated and prevent children from disappearing from the oversight of services designed to keep them safe.

We welcome the commitment to continued support for Ofsted’s work to scrutinise and challenge off-rolling and the proposal for legislation to increase Ofsted’s powers to inspect schools that are operating illegally without registration.

Chapter 3: targeted support for every child who needs it (page 32)

The Government will deliver:

  • A Parent Pledge that your school will provide evidence-based support if your child falls behind in English or maths and tell you about their progress.
  • Up to 6 million tutoring courses by 2024 with action to cement one-to-one and small group tuition as a permanent feature of our school system.
  • A secure future for the Education Endowment Foundation putting our independent ‘what works’ centre on a long-term footing and placing the generation and mobilisation of evidence at the heart of our education system.

LGA view:

Ensuring every pupil is supported to reach their potential must be at the centre of any education reform programme and this is particularly true given the continued impact of the pandemic on education. The £5 billion invested in education recovery is welcome, but funding levels must be kept under review to ensure that all pupils have access to a broad programme of recovery support that includes social, emotional and mental health support.

It is disappointing that there is not greater reference to the role that good emotional wellbeing and mental health plays in ensuring children and young people are able to thrive in education. Although mental health support teams are a positive step in providing much needed support to children and teachers, the ambition is limited in only rolling out to 35 per cent of schools by 2023, this leaves the majority of children and young people without access to essential support.

Chapter 4: a stronger and fairer school system (page 43)

The Government will deliver:

  • A fully trust led system with a single regulatory approach, which will drive up standards, through the growth of strong trusts and the establishment of new ones, including trusts established by local authorities.
  • A clear role for every part of the school system, with local authorities empowered to champion the interests of children and a new collaborative standard requiring trusts to work constructively with all other partners.
  • Education Investment Areas to increase funding and support to areas in most need, plus extra funding in priority areas facing the most entrenched challenges.

We will increase capacity in the parts of the country that need them most (page 46)

LGA view:

Education will be hugely important in levelling up the country, and it is logical to target investment at ‘Education Investment Areas’, to improve educational provision and raise attainment in those areas. However, the pandemic has hit the educational attainment of all pupils, particularly those from vulnerable backgrounds, and the impact of this will be felt for years to come. We are therefore calling on the Government to ensure that children are at the centre of the recovery from COVID-19 and utilise the expertise of councils to work towards our shared goal of ensuring pupils make up for lost learning and can provide holistic support, including for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. 

When considering whether to move schools with two successive below ‘good’ Ofsted judgements into multi-academy trusts (MATs), we urge the Government to utilise the knowledge and expertise of councils in supporting schools to improve. Academisation should be a choice for schools if they think it will improve their results. It is also unclear what happens if there are no strong MAT within an Education Investment Area. We would welcome clarification on this point.

We will ensure all types of school can help build the fully trust led system (page 48)

LGA view:

We are pleased that the Department has listened to our calls to allow councils to create their own MATs. This approach will allow maintained schools to continue enjoying the benefits of a strong working relationship with their local council in a fully academised school system. It is right that council-led MATs are regulated in the same way as other trusts and we do not support the proposal to put limits on local authority involvement in trust boards. Councils must be free to appoint the individuals with the most appropriate skills and experience to become members of a MAT Board.

We will better regulate school trusts (page 49)

LGA view:

It is right that the White Paper sets out an ambition to develop a set of statutory academy trust standards. A requirement to deliver high quality and inclusive education will be crucial to the success of reforms to the SEND system; councils want to see more children and young people with special needs educated in their local mainstream wherever possible and it is crucial that parents have confidence in the quality of local provision. This will result in both improved outcomes and a reduction in the use of special and independent and non-maintained special school places that are by their very nature more expensive than mainstream provision. We look forward to working with the Department on the regulatory review of MATs in due course.

We will ensure that every actor in the school system has a clear role (page 51)

LGA view:

We welcome the Department’s acknowledgement that councils will remain at the centre of local education systems, acting as champions for all children. The White paper recognises that councils will need new powers to fulfil their education statutory duties.

We welcome the proposal for councils to have a new backstop power to direct trusts to admit pupils where collaborative working breaks down.

Councils have a unique responsibility to ensure there are sufficient school places locally and will need backstop powers to ensure schools expand to meet need. Timely decisions to expand schools will also be necessary where there are sudden increases in the number of school-age children in an area, as we have seen with the arrival of Afghan and Ukrainian families in recent months. We do not support the proposal in the White Paper that DfE Regional Directors should take over responsibility for making decisions about school expansion and the creation of new places.

Implementing reforms set out in White Paper will take several years and in the interim period the Department should take action to allow councils to support ‘orphan’ schools where Regional Schools Commissioners are struggling to find a strong MAT to take them on.

We will ensure the system works for vulnerable children and children with SEND (page 58)

LGA view:

We are keen to understand how the proposed safeguarding audits of school policies will link with Ofsted inspections, and the levers available to Local Safeguarding Partnerships where policies are found to require further attention. Local safeguarding partnerships would also need to be appropriately funded to carry out this work. It would be helpful to consider how to strengthen the link between schools and local safeguarding arrangements, as we know that this is not always as strong as it could be.

It is important to be clear around expectations of individual schools and MATs in a fully academised system, particularly where one MAT may cover multiple safeguarding partnerships, and ensure that all schools engage in their local arrangements. This partnership working will be vital; by working together consistently, schools and statutory safeguarding partners can ensure that policies are updated regularly to reflect emerging issues and engage in an ongoing dialogue that will support children and young people more effectively that a triennial audit alone.

We look forward to working with the DfE to make sure we provide an education system that is inclusive and works for all children. If councils would like to get in touch to share any challenges or opportunities from your areas, to inform our work on local government’s behalf, please get in touch with your Principal Adviser or via the contact details below.