Digest of the Education Act 2005

9th September 2005 at 01:00
Digest of the Education Act 2005 By John Fowler and Chris Waterman NFER Pounds 15

Some novels are generally regarded as unreadable. Finnegans Wake is one.

Foucault's Pendulum is another. But anyone who complains about such books should be made to read an Education Act. They will never be sniffy about James Joyce or Umberto Eco again.

The latest legislative doorstop to be issued by the Stationery Office is the 2005 Education Act, a 160-page dust-gatherer that is nearly three times as long as the Children Act 2004. It is a significant Act, and we must be grateful that John Fowler and Chris Waterman were masochistic enough to produce this digest, a follow-up to their well-thumbed Plain Guide to the Children Act 2004.

They set out the Act's principal reforms: the shorter, sharper school inspections introduced from this month; three-year school budgeting; and school profiles, the slim new documents that will replace the annual governors' report and parents' meeting. Fowler and Waterman spell out what the changes will mean for headteachers and governors. They also provide essential detail about the changes that received less publicity: the revised arrangements for authorising free school lunches; the powers that governors now possess to require excluded pupils to attend alternative provision; and the competitions that will determine who runs new secondary schools (local authority, faith group or non-religious charity).

Some passages in the guide are almost as difficult to read as the Act itself. Here is an example: "Interestingly (my emphasis), the report of LEA-funded and secured youth service provision under the management of a school could not be included in a 'section 5' inspection report as the statutory basis for inspecting the youth service provision lies in s.38 of the Education Act 1997." But as the guide is also aimed at local authority officers and education lawyers it is inevitable that it sometimes offers more detail than heads and governors need.

However, most of the guide is more generally useful, at least to English readers (the sections affecting Welsh education are not covered). There is a particularly valuable section on how school funding has evolved under Labour, and some well-chosen extracts from Westminster debates on the Bill.

But I also enjoyed some of the almost useless snippets of information. Did you know that Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools cannot serve as an MP? (Would he have the time?) Or the maximum penalty for obstructing an inspection? It's pound;2,500, so you may no longer be tempted.

The fact that intrigued me most was that the Teacher Training Agency, which in future is to be known as the Training and Development Agency for Schools, has acquired a new power under section 83 (1) to do anything it thinks fit in furtherance of its objectives. So next time there is a teacher-recruitment crisis we can expect the press-gangs to come knocking.

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