Monday, 8 July 2013

Education Bill introduced

Although school holiday powers were the headline-grabber, some of the
reforms outlined in the Welsh Government's Education Bill go deeper than that.
(Pic : Aberdeen City Council)
Last week, Education Minister Huw Lewis (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) introduced the Education Bill to the Senedd. The Bill itself is available here (pdf), and the explanatory memorandum here (pdf).

The Bill itself has four major groups of proposals :

1. The Education Workforce Council

At the moment, teachers have to be members of a professional body – the General Teaching Council for Wales (GTfW) – in order to teach. Back in 2011, Leighton Andrews (Lab, Rhondda) said that he wanted all education workers (not just teachers) to work together to raise standards.

In this regard, the Bill proposes that :
  • The GTfW be reformed as the "Education Workforce Council" (EWC). Schedule 1 of the act sets out the EWC's constitution and powers.
  • The Education Workforce Council will be the registered professional body for anyone involved in education (i.e. educational support workers and further education teachers), not just school teachers, with the intention of eventually expanding this to include youth workers and those involved in work-based learning.
  • The EWC will have responsibility for promoting education careers, ensuring higher standards and dealing with professional conduct. The Bill outlines the EWC's role in disciplinary proceedings and suspensions, and they will have the power to:
    • Reprimand
    • Issue a conditional registration order (probation?)
    • Issue a suspension order
    • Issue a prohibition order, banning the person from registering (effectively banning them from teaching).
  • People will be unable to register with the EWC if they're barred from working with children or otherwise disqualified (from elsewhere in the UK too).
  • The Welsh Government be able to make regulations regarding who can or cannot work in a schools, as well as regulations regarding the induction of newly qualified teachers.
  • The Welsh Government will set a new Code of Practice and Conduct for the educational workforce, which the EWC will have to review every 3 years after it's introduced.

2. Learning Difficulties

The Bill makes changes to how independent schools (non-state) for learners with special education needs (SEN) are registered and approved, mainly to increase the amount of information available and improve transparency about levels of SEN teaching provided in such establishments.

The Bill also sets out improvements to how SEN teaching is provided and assessed for post-16 pupils, making the transition from school to further education colleges much easier and less bureaucratic, mainly in relation to the funding available to FE colleges to provide training/teaching for SEN pupils.

Local authorities will be required to produce a report outlining the needs of the learner, and the Bill will place duties on local authorities to provide SEN pupils with (what appears to be) whatever they need to carry on learning post-16.

It also beefs up the right to appeal for parents of post-16 SEN pupils when they believe their funding/places haven't been dealt with satisfactorily, as at the moment there are circumstances where they can't appeal, or can only do so via a Judicial Review.

3. School Holidays & Term Dates

At present, there's variation in school term dates between local authorities.

As Inside Out pointed out last week, England has gone down the path of allowing individual schools to decide term dates for themselves. Meanwhile, Wales is taking a more "centralist approach" by forcing local authorities to work together to harmonise school term and holiday dates, with a final nod from the Welsh Government. It'll only apply to state schools.

The plus is that school holidays usually result in increased child care costs, so harmonising them might provide a bit more certainty for parents, so they don't consider taking children on holiday during term time, for example.

The negative being this really such a pressing issue that the Welsh Government need to involve themselves with it?

4. Appointment of HM Inspectors of education and training in Wales (Estyn)

The power to recommend school inspector appointments (in Wales) to Bet Windsor and her successors will transfer from the Welsh Secretary to the First Minster. It's hinted in the explanatory memorandum that similar functions relating to devolved matters in Wales will bypass the Welsh Secretary too thanks to a Privy Council agreement.


This has all the hallmarks of a Leighton Andrews Bill (examples here and here) - giving powers away on one hand whilst taking with the other, new regulations, and reformed structures under the "standards agenda" banner. It remains to be seen whether Huw Lewis will simply go along with that, or stamp his own approach and amend some aspects of it.

Plans for a register of home-schooled children were - as I understand it -  going to be included in this Bill, but have been dropped it appears.

The creation of an all-inclusive education professional standards body seems to have been broadly welcomed by other AMs when Huw introduced this to the Senedd. It's understandable, as it seems a bit strange that only teachers have to be registered, even if a lot more people than teachers are involved in educating children.

The headline in this was the school holiday business, as – in all honesty – that's the only bit most members of the public and parents can relate to. I'm in favour of a "six term system", and maybe the provisions in the Bill will eventually allow a Welsh Government to move towards that.

I think the big change in the Bill will be the SEN post-16 provisions. I'm not sure what the standards are like for those provisions now, but it does look as though the Bill is going to make some quite substantial changes there.

It's right that those with special needs are given as much opportunity as possible to pursue education to as high a level as they're capable of. That's so they don't get written off, or end up writing themselves off, getting stuck in a rut when they leave full-time education and try to enter the workforce because they might not have had the right opportunity to get the right qualifications.

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