The importance of teaching – the Schools White Paper 2010

November 26th, 2010

“At the heart of our plan is a vision of the teacher as our society’s most valuable asset…There is no calling more noble, no profession more vital and no service more important than teaching”. So says Michael Gove MP in his foreword to the White Paper published on 24th November (see Tim Kerr’s preview here) which sets out the coalition government’s aims for education in schools. Driving the whole paper appear to be two aims: (i) to break the correlation between wealth and educational attainment (the current situation being exemplified by the stark statistic that in 2007/2008 only 40 of 80,000 pupils eligible for free school meals went to Oxbridge – fewer than the number sent by Winchester College); and (ii) to ‘keep up’ with our international competitors.

This post focuses on changes to teaching and school discipline which the White Paper foreshadows. Some of the changes are relatively minor and un-surprising, some are more radical. This post describes a selection of the more interesting among them.

The government wants to change teachers’ performance, pay and capability procedures. More specifically, it wants to give more ‘freedom’ to schools to set them themselves. On pay the paper states:

–          “early in 2011 we will ask the School Teachers’ Review Body to make recommendations on introducing greater freedoms and flexibilities that will make the pay and conditions framework less rigid. We will consult on their recommendations, so that new and more flexible pay arrangements can be introduced at the end of the current pay freeze.” (2.31)

On performance and capability, it had been reported that the government wants to make it easier for head teachers to sack bad teachers. The paper states:

–          “The current regulations on teacher competence are complex, lengthy and fragmented. We will shorten and simplify them and remove the current duplication between the performance management and the ‘capability’ procedures for managing poor performance. This will enable head teachers to deal more swiftly, effectively and fairly with underperforming members of staff.” (2.33)

On 2nd June 2010, the government announced that it would be scrapping the General Teaching Council for England. No specific mention is made of the maintenance of a teaching register, but there will be a new, publicly available, ‘barred list’:

–          “After we abolish the GTCE in the forthcoming Education Bill…we will put new arrangements in place for the regulation of the teaching profession and for dealing with professional misconduct and incompetence. The Department will have the powers, where necessary, to bar teachers from the profession. There will be a simple list of those who have been barred which employers and the public will be able to access, and the disciplinary process will be simplified further by reducing the current range of sanctions to a ruling that a teacher will either be barred or not.” (2.36)

Much of the White Paper focuses on the need to reduce ‘bureaucracy’ which includes a welcome pledge to avoid over hasty resort to legislation:

–          “…we will remove statutory duties and requirements which we do not think need to be a legal requirement. Many of these requirements are ‘declaratory’ – they have little practical force – or else cannot reasonably be policed and enforced. Legislating in these areas is in our view ineffective…” (2.49)

Certain ‘duties and requirements’ are singled out for abolition:

–          “We will legislate to remove the duty on schools and colleges to cooperate with Children’s Trusts and abolish the requirement for local authorities to produce a Children and Young People’s Plan.” (2.50) The duties referred to here are those amendments made to sections 10 and 17 Children Act 2004 by sections 193 and 194 Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009.

–          “We will remove prescription on school governing bodies, simplifying the list of decisions that they are required to take” (2.52) “We are also removing the expectation on every school to complete a centrally designed self-evaluation form” (2.53) “we will abolish the Financial Management Standard in Schools (FMSiS) because it has become a tick-box paper exercise…”

–          “…we will legislate to abolish the requirement to give 24 hours’ notice for detentions.” (3.8) This is section 92 Education and Inspections Act 2006.

Statutory and non-statutory guidance will be cut down to a length suitable for holiday reading:

–          “we are reviewing all existing guidance, aiming to remove what is not necessary and sharply cut back what is left. We aim to establish a simple, definitive suite of guidance which can reasonably be read by a head teacher over a half-term break” (2.58)

–          In particular “Existing anti-bullying guidance is too long and fragmented, so we will rationalise and simplify this from nearly 500 pages to around 20 pages.” (3.21)

There are some new powers however, most notably those ‘quasi-police’ powers which Mr Gove had suggested he wanted to introduce. The White Paper says this:

–           “Teachers have been given powers to use force or physical restraint where necessary…” (which is presumably a reference to sections 242-245 Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 which added sections 550ZA ff to Education Act 1996 and were brought into force on 1st September 2010. These give teachers a power to search pupils for alcohol, knives and other weapons, controlled drugs and stolen property. This will be “extended to include pornography, tobacco, and fireworks“(3.10)). Furthermore, the government will “issue a short, clear, robust guide on teachers’ powers to use reasonable force… [and] will legislate through the forthcoming Education Bill to give teachers a more general power to search for any item which they reasonably believe is going to be used to cause harm to others or to break a law…” (3.9-3.10)

There are also plans to protect teachers from ‘false allegations’ made against them, though it remains a little unclear by whom, or at what point, an allegation will be deemed to be ‘false’. The White Paper states that DfE will work with local authorities, the Home Office and ACPO on ‘speeding up’ investigations, “without compromising their integrity”. These are some of the other plans:

–           “…we will legislate to give anonymity to teachers accused by pupils” (3.11)

–          “We will update guidance to schools to ensure that allegations against a teacher do not automatically result in their being suspended. Where there are no risks to children, we want to see alternatives explored…” (3.13)

–          “…We will clarify that in future when employers are asked to give references for teachers they should never be required to report prior allegations which were found to be malicious or untrue. We will legislate to introduce reporting restrictions that prevent a teacher’s identity being revealed until the point at which they are charged with a criminal offence.” (3.14)

Last, but certainly not least, the government wants to reform the current system of exclusion appeals. The intention appears to be to make the Head teacher’s decision on exclusion more conclusive as IAPs will no longer have the power to re-instate a pupil, irrespective, it seems, of the needs of the child or the gravity of the error in excluding:

–           “…the possible re-instatement of an excluded pupil – however rarely this happens – can undermine the head teacher’s authority. We will legislate to reform independent appeals panels, so that there is still an independent review of decision making, but the review will not be able to compel re-instatement. If the review panel judges that there were flaws in the exclusion process thy can request that governors reconsider their decision and schools may be required to contribute towards the costs of additional support for the excluded pupil. But schools will not be forced to re-admit children who have been excluded.” (3.29)

The decision to exclude may also soon become one of very considerable consequence for the school itself however, under “a new approach” that the government “plan to trial”. This approach has strong echoes of the plan outlined in the Health White Paper to get GPs to commission hospital services themselves. It will operate like this:

–          “Schools will be free to exclude pupils, but they will then be responsible for finding and funding alternative provision themselves…we will explore shifting the money for alternative provision from local authorities to schools so schools can purchase for themselves the alternative provision they think will best suit disruptive children.” (3.38)

–          The government does accept however that “certainly in the short to medium term, we would need local authorities to retain a duty to ensure that sufficient provision is available, and to take responsibility for quality assurance. Over time, we hope to see responsibility pass more and more to schools themselves.” (3.41)

My next post will look at what the White Paper holds in store for the organisation of the Schools system, particularly the much-reported pledge to make Academies ‘the norm’.

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