The government has said it is dropping the education bill unveiled in this year’s Queen’s speech, abandoning several proposals that had proved to be unpopular. However, it said it would press ahead with plans for more grammar schools.
The bill was introduced in March by Nicky Morgan, then education secretary, but its most controversial clauses were quickly removed, including forcing all state schools in England to become academies by 2020 and ending statutory places for parents on boards of governors.
Justine Greening, Morgan’s successor as education secretary, signalled the ditching of the bill in a written statement to parliament on the unrelated technical and further education bill.
“We have rightly reflected on our strategic priorities and the proposals for education legislation put forward at the time of the Queen’s speech [in May],” Greening said in the statement.
“My department has renewed its focus on ensuring everything we do drives towards improving social mobility with an emphasis on not just the most disadvantaged families but also on those that are just about managing.
“Our ambition remains that all schools should benefit from the freedom and autonomy that academy status brings. Our focus, however, is on building capacity in the system and encouraging schools to convert voluntarily.
“No changes to legislation are required for these purposes and therefore we do not require wider education legislation in this session to make progress on our ambitious education agenda.”
With two bills already in the legislative pipeline – the children and social work bill and the higher education and research bill – and with the technical and further education bill announced on Thursday, the Department for Education’s permanent secretary Jonathan Slater was keen to drop the workload entailed by the remnants of the controversial bill and is said to have convinced Greening.
Local authorities warned that while the bill’s demise meant councils would still have a role in school improvement and support, a planned budget cut would leave them with few resources to help schools.
“We also urge government to reverse plans to cut £600m from the education services grant awarded to councils and academies next year,” said Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board.
“This funding is vital to help ensure that children are getting the education they deserve, from helping to provide speech therapy and physiotherapy, to carrying out checks on staff and providing music services in schools.
“It also helps to plan for the new school places that are urgently needed, ensuring that every child has a place at a good school near their home.”
The DfE is expected to include elements of the old bill when Greening’s Schoolsthat Work for Everyone consultation is published early next year and it is likely to set out proposals on extending grammar schools.
“The Schools that Work for Everyone consultation, which I announced in an oral statement to the house on 12 September, remains ongoing,” Greening said.
She reiterated her support for grammar schools. “This consultation asks how we can create more great school places in more parts of the country – including selective places for local areas that want them – and asks our independent schools, universities and faith schools to play their part in improving the quality of our state-funded schools.”
However, Labour said the withdrawal of the education bill meant the government was having “second thoughts” about opening new grammar schools, with a statement by shadow education secretary Angela Rayner appearing to suggest that the policy was being dropped.
“This was supposed to be the new prime minister’s flagship domestic policy – an education bill paving the way for a new generation of grammar schools. That has been abandoned as a result of the huge pressure Labour has put the government under,” Rayner said.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, welcomed the dropping of the plan to convert all schools to academies. He said: “We welcome the demise of this legislation. It was, and remains, inappropriate to force good schools to convert when the evidence of any benefit is so dubious.”
Parts of the bill expected to survive include the proposed revamp of initial teacher training and an overhaul of the National College for Teaching and Leadership.
Last week, Greening reversed an election pledge to make children who fail primary school reading and maths exams resit them at secondary schools and offered a two-year freeze on new assessments.