The Government has scrapped its controversial Schools Bill as part of efforts to focus on the effects of the current economic crisis.
The Bill, launched in May, formed part of Boris Johnson’s drive to have all schools in England join an academy trust by 2030 and included the provision of a new register for children who are homeschooled.
The legislation would also have granted more powers to Ofsted, the schools inspector.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan told MPs on Wednesday that although she “remains committed” to the general aims of the Bill, it “will not progress in the third session” of Parliament.
Speaking during her first appearance in front of the education committee, Ms Keegan insisted the Government still views elements of the Bill as a priority.
However, she said ministers would instead prioritise drawing up measures to ease the cost of living crisis in schools.
“Obviously, there’s been a lot of things that we’ve had to focus on, and the need to provide economic stability and tackle the cost of living means that the parliamentary time has definitely been reprioritised on that,” she said.
“We do remain committed to the objectives, the very many important objectives that underpinned the Bill, and we will be prioritising some aspects of the Bill as well to see what we can do.”
It means the Bill will likely be ditched in its current form. The legislation had been due for its third reading in the Lords, but the Government stripped out controversial chunks that would have given ministers sweeping powers over autonomous academies.
It also included a commitment to introduce a direct National Funding Formula, which would have made sure that every school in England received funding on the same basis.
Ms Keegan said ambitions set out in the Schools White Paper, published in March under Mr Johnson’s premiership, could still be implemented without legislation.
She noted that the Department for Education was particularly committed to tackling the persistent absence rate in schools, after figures published in October showed that 23.5 per cent of children were consistently missing school in the autumn term of 2021.
It means more than a quarter of children are routinely missing more than 10 per cent of school time.
Ms Keegan said a register of children not in school was “definitely a priority”, after the number of children being home-schooled jumped significantly in the wake of the pandemic.
During the 2020-21 academic year, 115,000 children were estimated to have been home educated at some point – an increase of 34 per cent on the previous year.
Ms Keegan said the register would ensure pupils being home-schooled were receiving an education of the right quality and support.
Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said it was “the correct decision to withdraw the Schools Bill”.
“It was poorly written and problematic, particularly the clumsy attempt to give the Secretary of State unprecedented powers over individual schools,” she said.
“We would also question whether focussing on large structural change is the right priority for the Government at the moment, given the hugely worrying and growing shortage of teachers, and the rising costs schools and colleges are having to grapple with.”
However, Ms McCulloch insisted that a national register of children absent from school and plans to grant Ofsted greater powers “were long overdue and should still be a priority”.
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