Bill to shake up inspections

19th November 2004 at 00:00
Schools set for more legislation as the Government faces race against time to implement its proposals before the next general election. Jon Slater reports

On-the-spot school inspections will be the centrepiece of a Bill to be announced in next week's Queen's speech.

Labour's latest education Bill - the 11th in seven years since Tony Blair came to power - is expected to be largely technical, enabling the Government to implement policies already set out in its five-year plan.

Measures to allow headteachers three-year budgets and to strengthen the powers of school forums to monitor local authority spending will also be included.

The Bill will abolish the legal requirement for governing bodies to hold annual parents' meetings and publish an annual report.

These will be replaced with new "school profiles" containing information on pupil attainment, inspection evidence and details of extra curricular activities.

Ministers may use the Queen's speech to highlight the planned increase in the number of foundation schools, even though this can be achieved without primary legislation.

The speech is also expected to include a charities bill which will require private schools to prove they work for the public benefit if they want to retain charitable status.

The Government will face a race against time to implement the bill before Parliament is dissolved for the next general election, which is expected in May.

David Bell, the chief inspector, has said he plans to introduce the new inspection framework, which will cut the notice schools are given from 10 weeks to just a few days, next September. The maximum period between inspections will also be cut to three years.

The Bill will be part of a busy parliamentary year for the Department for Education and Skills which has yet to get the school transport Bill on to the statute book and is in the process of putting more flesh on the bones of its plans for early-years education and childcare.

A new duty on local authorities to ensure after-school childcare places meet demand was announced by the Prime Minister last week, but legislation is not expected until after the next election.

The DfES is also preparing its response to Mike Tomlinson's proposals to reform 14 to 19 education and is expected to publish a youth Green Paper in the next few months.

Compared with previous Bills, such as the one introducing university top-up fees, the legislation announced next week is likely to prove uncontroversial.

Headteachers and teaching unions largely welcome the changes to inspection and the three-year budgets. But there are concerns that the amount of education legislation passed by Labour has made it impossible to ensure policies are properly implemented. The only years not to have had an education Bill since Labour came to power in 1997, were 1999 and 2003.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

"I look forward to the time when ministers give us a holiday from legislation."

Philip Collins, director of the Social Market Foundation think-tank, said:

"It is a problem. I do not normally take the side of the professions when they bleat about the extent of regulation, but I think in education they have a case.

"It is not just the legislation - the weight of guidance which follows from the DfES is enormous."

New Labour's class acts

Education (Schools) Act 1997 Abolished assisted places to pay for cutting infant class sizes

School Standards and Framework Act 1998 Allowed intervention in failing schools, expanded nursery education and replaced grant-maintained with foundation schools

Education (Student Loans) Act 1998 Sold student loans to the private sector

Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998

University tuition fees

Learning and Skills Act 2000

Set up Learning and Skills Council

Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001

Strengthened the right of SEN pupils to mainstream education

Education Act 2002

Introduced rarely-used power to innovate and unused "earned autonomy" for schools

Higher Education Act 2004 University top-up fees

Children Act 2004

Gives schools more responsibility for child protection. Creates post of Children's Commissioner

School Transport Bill

Aims to cut traffic and could alter the starting time of the school day

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