Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

Hammer and nuts

As its title suggests, the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill (yes, the ASCL Bill) going through Parliament contains almost everything but the kitchen sink. It is lengthy and complicated and it is difficult to see how Parliament will have sufficient time to scrutinise adequately all the elements.

The bill grants a host of extra powers to the secretary of state, most of which ASCL has opposed as being too centralised and undermining school and college autonomy.

One of the greatest pieces of nonsense in the bill is a statutory, formal system for dealing with parental complaints, alongside a new role of local commissioner (in effect a school complaints ombudsman).

ASCL has argued strongly that this is a large sledgehammer to crack a small nut. The proposals are bureaucratic and potentially expensive and, ASCL has warned, may create problems where currently there are none.

While it is unlikely that the clause will be repealed altogether, ASCL is seeking tighter controls so that the local commissioner will not be able to substitute his/her judgement for that of the school and will be able to throw out vexatious complaints.

Whilst ASCL cautiously welcomed the arrangements to promote co-operation to improve children's wellbeing, the role of Children's Trusts has been drawn much too widely. They should focus more on 'joining up' local services so that frontline providers receive timely and efficient support. Clearly many local authorities (LAs) will need to raise their game and it is imperative that schools and colleges are not accountable for matters over which they have very little control.

Children's Trusts could create an extra bureaucratic tier between LAs and frontline providers which must be well managed. It is crucial that outside agencies do not control decisions made in schools and ASCL is seeking an amendment to the bill that ensures the powers of school and college leaders over day-to-day management are not compromised.

The section of the bill dealing with the National Challenge gives the secretary of state power to direct local authorities to issue warning notices where he deems the standards of student performance are 'unacceptably low' and to appoint additional governors or replace governing bodies once a notice has been issued.

ASCL has repeatedly said that this will add to an already excessive and suffocating list of measures by which schools are put under pressure by local authorities. ASCL has been vocal in its criticism of the National Challenge from the first and is continuing to argue that LAs should improve their commissioning of the right type of support, rather than use top-down intervention, and that mergers, closures or replacing the school's leadership must be an absolute last resort.

In terms of powers for schools, the bill gives statutory powers to search for prohibited items. However, wording suggests that belongings may only be searched in the presence of the student concerned. ASCL has made clear that there are times when this will not be appropriate and more flexibility is needed.

In addition, the bill creates yet another bureaucratic burden by making statutory the guidance that any use of 'significant force' by staff must be recorded and reported. ASCL does not accept this and has asked that the clause is repealed.

The bill legitimises the Office of Qualifications (Ofqual) and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA). ASCL has pressed for the QCDA to retain a high level of independence, to ensure the government receives impartial advice on curriculum and assessment.

Also in the bill are the formation of the Young Persons Learning Agency (YPLA) and the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) in addition to moving oversight of 16-19 education to LAs. While the government has promised a slim-line system, ASCL will be keeping a close watch on the resulting red tape and workload cascading down to schools and colleges.

On a more positive note, ASCL welcomed the proposed changes to the structure for 14-19 education and the introduction of a national funding formula for 16 to 19 provision, which will bring greater stability and predictability to the sector. ASCL is seeking reassurance that the funding mechanism for 16 to 19 education ensures that money reaches schools and colleges without interference from LAs.

ASCL was also pleased to see the inclusion of all schools in behaviour partnerships and the introduction of less frequent inspections for successful schools.

  • To read the full ASCL briefing which was sent to MPs before the second reading, go to the website at www.ascl.org.uk

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