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Bills and legislations Department for Education NNPCF Steering Group white paper

NNPCF Meeting with DfE Schools White Paper Team

Last week, members of the NNPCF steering group and management team met with officials from the Department for Education working on the Schools White Paper.

The DfE team covered the main tenants of the Bill outlined here Schools Bill: policy statements – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Key amongst these are the ambitions laid out in the Bill and the four strategies that underpin the legislation focussed on teaching, standards, targeted support and changes to the schools’ system.

The NNPCF are very concerned about the headline provisions in the bill around attainment, attendance and behaviour. When crude and simplistic approaches are taken, these are areas that can challenge children and young people with SEND. The overarching messages surrounding the Schools’ Bill are very troubling for our membership.

However, within the detailed provisions, there are many measures that we welcome and have been asking for over many years such as promoting an enriched curriculum and access to specialist support. But these more positive messages have been lost in the detail. The headlines around attainment, attendance and behaviour are dominating the agenda and we believe will come to overshadow the implementation of the Bill unless corrected.

The headlines from the Schools’ Bill are very concerning

The NNPCF expressed significant concerns to the DfE on some of the messages being promoted about the proposals, most notably:

Attainment

The White Paper lays out ambitions for attainment at key stage 2 (90% of learners to reach the expected standard in English and Maths) and key stage 4 (a rise in the average GSCE grade for English and Maths from 4.5 to 5). The NNPCF have several concerns with this approach

  • There is a danger that these “ambitions” for the whole system very rapidly become “targets” or “benchmarks” for schools, multi-academy trusts and local authorities. The DfE team took great lengths to emphasise that individual schools, trusts or local authorities will not be held to account for reaching these targets and Ofsted have confirmed that this will not form a part of their inspections. However, the NNPCF believes that these will become de facto measures of success and further incentivise schools to be less inclusive.
  • The focus on academic attainment devalues the more holistic success of many children and young people with SEND. We urged the DfE to look to broader, more individual measures of progress beyond grades.

Behaviour and Attendance

The legislation calls for a “relentless focus on behaviour and attendance”. Again, this poses significant risks for the SEND community:

  • This fails to take into account the underlying causes of behavioural concerns and lower attendance for children and young people with SEND. Unmet needs, blanket policies and emotionally or anxiety based issues are increasing in the SEND community and taking a harder line on behaviour and attendance will entrench existing concerns and cause further issues. Please see our recent post in response to the Attendance Audit by the Children’s Commissioner Children’s Commissioner’s Attendance Audit – National Network of Parent Carer Forums C.I.C (nnpcf.org.uk)

The regulatory system

The schools Bill proposes changes to the regulatory system for multi-academy trusts – namely a shake-up of the regional schools’ commissioners into new regional Educational Directorates with increased powers and the rationalisation of schools regulation into a single common rule book for academies.

  • However, there remains much ambiguity between the role and accountability of individual schools, multi-academy trusts, regional DfE directorates and local authorities. This lack of clarity carries significant risks for the most vulnerable children including those with SEND who may fall through the cracks (as many do now). You can find more on our concerns here The SEND Green Paper: NNPCF briefing – National Network of Parent Carer Forums C.I.C

However, there are some more positive details that we welcome

  • Most importantly, a strong multi-academy trust is defined as one that provides “high quality and inclusive education.” From the outset, we are pleased that there is a recognition that goods schools are inclusive schools.
  • The Bill contains measures for a diverse and enriched curriculum which will benefit many children with SEND in a way that a narrow academically based curriculum limits them.
  • Provisions on mental health and pastoral support are included which are so important to enable many children with SEND to flourish.
  • There are specific requirements on targeted support that is holistic covering academic, pastoral and specialist interventions (or a combination) where needed
  • Increased powers for a local authority to admit a pupil to a specific school
  • Greater controls on cases where pupils are moved between schools

The DfE will be launching a review into the new regulatory system proposed and a consultation into the new statutory pupil movement framework. The DfE agreed to engage with the NNPCF on both these activities.