What the Bill means for you

14th April 2006 at 01:00
Teachers who think Labour's latest school reforms are just a load of spin should think again: their lives are going to change, and some may even lose their jobs, writes William Stewart

It has sparked a battle for the soul of the Labour party and generated acres of newspaper coverage, but will the latest education Bill make any real difference to teachers? The short answer is yes. Beyond the high-minded arguments over choice and diversity, there is plenty that is likely to have a major impact in the classroom.

Consider the new vocational diplomas which 14-16-year-olds will be entitled to take - it may not be everything the Tomlinson report had in mind, but it will make a huge difference to the way secondary schools are organised.

Depending on where you work large numbers of older pupils are likely to be spending a lot of time in neighbouring further education colleges taking courses in everything from tourism to hair and beauty.

The hope is that this will result in calm, quiet classrooms full of well-behaved teenagers who, presented with subjects they are actually interested in, discover a new joy for learning.

Even if that paradise fails to materialise, the change may have an impact on teachers of traditional academic subjects who could suddenly find themselves facing rows of empty chairs. Will they just be left to enjoy the smaller class sizes or will retraining be necessary?

If so maybe they could become science teachers. The Bill will give key stage 4 pupils a new entitlement to study at least two science GCSEs which is likely to mean a greater demand for staff qualified to teach them.

Teachers at schools in special measures could also lose their jobs as the Bill confirms the power of the Education Secretary to close failing schools -something the Government has said will happen if they do not make real progress within a year.

There could be potential for more teaching jobs through a new local authority duty to consider parental demands for new schools. But falling pupil numbers are likely to limit its impact for many years.

The idea that school staff can punish pupils, confiscate their possessions, hand out detentions and use reasonable force may be nothing new. But by spelling it out in law for the first time the Government has handed teachers an important weapon against what Ruth Kelly, Education Secretary, has dubbed the "'You can't tell me what to do' culture". They will no longer have to depend on 19th century case law and the vagaries of the courts to defend themselves against increasingly litigious parents.

The next time little Donatella screams "I know my rights", a teacher will be able to say "So do I," and point to the 2006 Education Act.

Like the discipline measures, the section extending tough nutritional standards from school lunches to all food and drink provided in schools has won wide support. But a ban on the sale of sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks could have unforeseen consequences. The English Secondary Students Association believes making junk food a forbidden pleasure will only make it more attractive.

Instead of better behaved and more attentive, additive-free classes, could the Bill simply lead to a long queue of pupils outside the nearest corner shop?

And what of the measures that have been at the heart of the political storm over the Bill, such as admissions? The draft legislation contains measures designed to extend the social mix of pupils attending the "best" schools, such as free transport for disadvantaged pupils; allowing the wider use of banded admissions systems; and the possibility of advisers to help parents choose schools. But critics still fear that, if more schools control their own admissions - something the Bill encourages - then it will be schools choosing the pupils rather than parents choosing the school.

The Bill does ban admissions interviews. But very few schools use them anyway.

However, it will also force schools to act in accordance with the statutory code of admissions rather than merely having regard to it. It is this that might, over time, actually change the mix of backgrounds in classrooms. But much will depend on the exact content of the code, still to be released, and whether it is properly policed.

The proposal for a new breed of school, the "trust school", may have generated the most controversy, but is unlikely to make much difference to teachers, certainly in the short to medium term.

Despite the initial government spin put on the plans last year, they are not actually radical. The freedoms which trust schools will enjoy to control own their own assets, federate with other schools, alter the curriculum, decide their own admissions policies, and vary staff pay and conditions - are already available.

The key difference is that outside organisations, including businesses, universities and charities, could end up effectively running schools in a similar way to the relationship that exists between academies and their sponsors.

But, and it is a big but, for trust schools to take off, two things will have to happen. School governing bodies will have to decide if they want to acquire a trust - and they have no financial incentive to - and external organisations will have to want to get involved. At present there is little evidence of much appetite for the scheme on either side of the fence.


October 2005 White paper published

February 28 Bill published, first Commons reading

March 15 Second Commons reading. The Bill gets through its first vote by 458 to 115 thanks to the support of 176 Conservative MPs who cancel out 52 Labour rebels

March 28 to May 11 Bill considered line by line by Commons standing committee made up of 13 Labour, seven Conservative and three Lib-Dem MPs

May 23* Report stage where amendments to the Bill made in committee are considered by House of Commons, followed by the third reading

May 29 First (formal) Lords reading

June 12* Second Lords reading with first vote on the bill in the upper house

June 26-July 25 Lords committee stage

October Lords report stage, followed by Lords third reading

OctoberNovember Commons considers Lords amendments with the possibility of the Bill "ping-ponging" between the houses until the text can be agreed

OctoberNovember Royal Assent, the Bill passes into law and becomes the Education and Inspections Act 2006 *provisional dates

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