Schools Bill, Committee Stage, House of Lords, 8 June 2022

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


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 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.
  • Councils have a crucial role to play in education, from ensuring every child has a school place to turning around struggling schools, which they demonstrated when providing vital support to schools during the pandemic. We are pleased that the Government’s reforms set out in the Schools White Paper recognise that the existing education system is fragmented and that it is essential councils should have a continued role at the centre of local education systems.  
  • 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 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. We want to work with Government to find a solution that adequately meets all local education costs 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.  Councils must be fully funded to implement and maintain the register and to carry out associated duties within the Bill.
  • Councils 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, and work well with their local authority to make sure that a good education is being provided. To provide additional support to children and families who need it, we are calling for councils to be given adequate powers to meet with home-educated children and their parents to provide ‘home education support meetings’. These meetings would enable councils to strengthen support for families; ensure children are receiving a suitable education; and act as a vital safeguard to help prevent vulnerable children disappearing from the view of all public services.
  • 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 take into account the impact that school attendance would have on a child’s overall wellbeing and health.
  • We look forward to working with Government to ensure the Bill makes use of councils’ expertise and delivers the best outcomes for all children and young people.

Amendment statements

Backstop powers for councils to direct academies to expand and admit pupils: Amendment 78, tabled by Lord Shipley

  • This amendment requires the Secretary of State to lay regulations within six months of the Act being passed, which provide local authorities in England with a power to direct academies within their area to admit individual pupils and expand school places.

LGA View

  • We support this amendment. While councils have a statutory duty to 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 the MAT to appeal to the Schools Adjudicator.
  • However, councils’ ability to meet local needs will be increasingly undermined as more schools convert from local authority-maintained schools to academies. It is therefore imperative that this backstop power is introduced as soon as reasonably possible.

Multi-academy trust expenditure transparency: Amendment 95, tabled by Lord Shipley

  • This amendment aims to increase transparency regarding MAT funding arrangements and expenditure, by requiring the proprietor of a MAT to annually publish information setting out the quantum of funding they have reallocated from schools’ budgets within their Trust and for what purpose.

LGA View

  • We support this amendment. At present, MATs can reallocate an uncapped proportion of funding from schools’ budgets within their MAT, with no requirement for transparency as to how this money is spent or the outcomes it delivers.
  • While we support MATs having a degree of flexibility over budgets within their trust to best meet schools and pupils needs, the lack of public transparency over their expenditure should be addressed to ensure public funding is delivering the best outcomes for pupils.

Retaining local flexibility within the National Funding Formula: Amendments 92 and 93, tabled by Lord Shipley

  • These amendments are probing amendments to enable a debate on the ability of the proposed direct National Funding Formula to meet local needs. 

LGA View

  • We support these amendments. Under the existing school funding arrangements, councils, with the agreement of schools, can move away from the national funding formula to address local needs. That flexibility will be removed once the direct National Funding Formula has been implemented.
  • As a result, councils will lose the ability to take local priorities and the needs of all schools in their area into account, and deal with additional school costs that cannot be adequately addressed through a formulaic approach.
  • For example, PFI costs, the revenue costs of funding new schools (which might need additional funding in their early days as the number of pupils build up year by year); the additional costs of schools which are located on split sites; and additional funding to support small schools in rural areas, known as sparsity funding.
  • At present, the Government’s proposals for the direct national funding formula will enable MATs to ‘top-slice’ and reallocate funding from school budgets within their trusts, with no requirement for transparency as to how this money is spent or an upper limit on the amount that can be reallocated. However, councils, which support maintained schools, will not be afforded the same flexibility, despite being subject to democratic accountability and a higher degree of transparency and scrutiny. This risks creating a two-tier system of funding between academies and maintained schools, with the lack of local flexibility having a greater impact on maintained schools.
  • We want to work with the Government to develop a funding solution that adequately meets all local education costs and ensures the direct National Funding Formula does not result in worse outcomes for local areas and individual schools.

School attendance orders: Amendment 140, tabled by Lord Shipley

  • Amendment 140 removes the term ‘expedient’ and clarifies that school attendance orders must only be issued when in the opinion of the local authority this course of action is in the best interest of the child.

LGA View

  • We support this amendment. We support removing the term ‘expedient’ in Clause 49, subsection (1), paragraph (c), and replacing it with ‘in the best interest of the child.’ This 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.

Local Authority established MATs: Amendment 68 tabled by Baroness Barron

  • Amendment 68 is a Government amendment which would require local authorities to carry out a consultation with the governing body of a school, before or after the local authority makes an application to convert the maintained school into an academy within a local authority established MAT.  

LGA View

  • We support this amendment. Under the Government’s proposals for a fully academised school system, all schools will need to belong to either an independent MAT or a local authority established MAT.
  • When councils have the ability to establish MATs, it is important that the process of conversion is carried out in consultation with the school governing body to secure the best chance of delivering long-term positive outcomes for the school.

Local authority powers to see children not in school

The Bill will require councils to maintain a register of children who are not in school and place a duty on parents who electively home educate (EHE) or have children who are out of school to register their children with their local authority and provide details of how their child is being educated. The LGA have long called for a register or all home educators to ensure children are receiving a suitable education in a safe environment, and we welcome this measure.

Under the Government’s proposals, parents who electively home educate their child will be required to provide details of how their child is being educated. However, this alone will not enable councils to identify whether a child is receiving an effective education or facilitate contact with parents to help identify where they may benefit from additional support.

To strengthen support for home educated children and their families, we are calling on Government to amend the Bill, to enable councils to meet with parents and children who are out of school at a ‘home education support meeting.’ This would be carried out by a Education Welfare Officer or another professional within the council with a specialism and consummate experience in education and child welfare. Home education support meetings would also provide a much-needed touchpoint for safeguarding and mitigate the risk of vulnerable children disappearing from the oversight of all public services which are designed to keep them safe.

Councils fully support the rights of parents to educate their children in the best way that they see fit. 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, and work well with their local council to make sure that a good education is being provided.

Where an initial home education meeting does not identify any concerns that a child is not receiving a suitable education, further meetings should not take place any more frequently than once an academic year unless requested by a parent. In cases where the local authority identifies concerns that the child is not receiving a suitable education or the family requests more support, a meeting should be offered more frequently. 

The Government should ensure that all new duties regarding implementing and maintaining the register of children who are not in school are fully funded.

Provision of religious education

  • Clause 25 sets out provisions regarding the provision of religious education (RE) in academies with a religious character. The Bill states that if parents of pupils at any Academy of a religious character want their child to receive RE in accordance with an agreed syllabus adopted by the local authority, it must be provided by the academy proprietor.
  • However, in cases where the academy proprietor is unwilling to provide this, the Bill requires the local authority to make arrangements for pupils to receive a RE in line with the local religious syllabus.

LGA View

  • Councils are responsible for supporting the provision of religious education in their maintained schools. Following the 1988 Education Act, every council in England and Wales has been required to establish a Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE). SACRE’s are local committees that have a statutory duty to design local RE syllabuses and advise councils with responsibility for education on RE matters, and support the provision of RE in local maintained schools.
  • It might be possible for councils to make arrangements for a pupil to receive RE in line with the local syllabus at another local school, where the academy proprietor refuses to do so. However, if this cannot be provided at a suitable maintained school, councils would be reliant on the good will of other academies to take the pupil on, as they have no powers to direct them to do so. If no school can be found to provide RE, there is no clarity on what provisions councils are expected to put in place, for example, whether they would be required to procure a private tutor. As it is the Government’s intention for all schools to become academies, it will therefore become increasingly difficult and less cost effective for councils to fulfil this duty.
  • The academy proprietor is in receipt of direct funding for all pupils within their MAT and is responsible for their pupils’ education in every other regard. Therefore, it is logical that the proprietor of academies should hold responsibility for providing pupils within their MAT with RE in line with a local syllabus, where this is requested. The Bill should be amended to reflect this.
  • However, if Government does put a duty on councils to provide RE for academy pupils, this must be fully funded.

Contact

Megan Edwards, Public Affairs and Campaigns Advisor
Email: megan.edwards@local.gov.uk