The Education and Adoption Bill 2015 (Bill) was published on 3 June 2015. The Bill sets out provisions to convert English schools that are causing concern into academies, and to provide greater power for the Secretary of State for Education to intervene in such schools. The Bill is also intended to remove existing obstacles preventing schools from converting to academy status.
The Bill creates a new category of maintained schools eligible for intervention, namely “coasting schools”. The definition of coasting schools has not been set out in the Bill. Instead the Secretary of State will have a power to define “coasting schools” in regulations.
The Department for Education has recently proposed that “coasting schools” are those schools which fail to ensure 60% of pupils get five good GCSE grades. In addition to this benchmark, schools will also be judged on pupils’ progress. From 2016 onwards, secondary schools which fail to score highly enough over a three-year period on ‘Progress 8’ will also be classed as coasting. Primary schools will likewise be deemed to be coasting if, over a three-year period, fewer than 85% of 11-year-olds achieve a Level 4 in reading, writing and maths, and a higher-than-average proportion of pupils fail to make expected progress.
Schools treated as coasting will be asked to come up with a credible plan for improvement for consideration by the Regional Schools Commissioners. If the plan is deemed to be inadequate, the default position is that they will likely be converted into academies.
The Bill will give the Secretary of State a power to issue a warning notice, which will prevail over any warning notices issued to the same school by the relevant local authority. In addition, the Secretary of State will have the power to specify a period for compliance instead of the standard 15 days. The Bill will also remove that governing body’s right to make representations to the relevant local authority.
The Bill will strengthen the Secretary of State’s powers to require a school which is eligible for intervention to take specific actions to improve the school’s performance and to direct the appointment of interim executive members.
The Bill will place an obligation on the Secretary of State to issue an Academy order in relation to maintained schools which require significant improvement or special measures. The Secretary of State will retain a discretion as to whether to issue an Academy order in relation to a maintained school which fails to comply with a warning notice or which has been identified as “coasting”.
The Bill removes the requirement on governing bodies to carry out a public consultation on a proposed academy conversion if a school is eligible for intervention and is the subject to an Academy order.
Significantly, the Bill imposes a new duty on the governing body of the school and the relevant local authority to facilitate the conversion once an Academy order is issued, including following any specific directions that may be given by the Secretary of State. This is intended to make it more difficult for schools and local authorities to block or obstruct any steps to convert the school.
The Bill has already generated significant debate in the school sector. Although the Government has stressed the Bill is primarily intended to close loopholes and speed up the turnaround of failing schools, others (including Parliament’s Education Select Committee and Public Accounts Committee) have queries whether academies are necessarily the solution and provide good value for money.
We will have to wait and see whether the content of the Bill is materially amended as it passes through Parliament. It is apparent, however, that the Government intends on accelerating the academy programme.