The best start in life

The LGA is prioritising the Schools Bill in its parliamentary work.

The Schools Bill and the preceding White Paper set out the Government’s ambition to tackle inequalities and ensure every child in England has the right support to meet their potential.

Ensuring every child and young person has the best start in life, supported by a high-performing school system, is a key priority for local government.

We are particularly pleased that the Bill will allow councils to set up and lead their own multi-academy trusts (MATs), which builds on years of campaigning by the LGA.

Councils have an excellent track record of providing a high-quality education for pupils, with 92 per cent of maintained schools rated by Ofsted as ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ – a higher proportion than any other type of school – so it is welcome that pupils will continue to benefit from this expertise.

Councils and maintained schools will need to be convinced, though, that the Government’s ambition for every school to be a part of a MAT by 2030 will, in and of itself, drive improvements in outcomes.

It’s also positive that the Government has listened to our calls to introduce a local register of children who are not in school, to help ensure all children are receiving a suitable education in a safe environment.

However, there are key areas where the Bill needs strengthening, and we have been working with peers of all parties to secure further reforms.

First, we disagree with Whitehall setting the budgets of 24,000 schools centrally and are concerned that the national funding formula will not be able to meet local needs adequately.

We are calling on government to retain an element of local flexibility and work with us to develop a sustainable solution that meets all local education costs.

Second, while councils have a statutory duty to ensure there is a school place for every child, they lack the powers to direct academies to admit individual pupils or expand school places.

We are therefore pressing for government to commit to resolving this issue within six months of the Bill passing into law.

Third, while the register of children not in school is an important step forward, this measure alone will not ensure families have the right support or safeguard vulnerable children.

Councils recognise that the vast majority of parents who home educate provide their children with a quality education. But to strengthen support for children who do need it, we are calling for councils to have powers to meet with home-educated children and their parents. This will enable councils to provide families with targeted support and act as a vital safeguard to help prevent children disappearing from the view of all public services.

Finally, we are calling for the Bill to improve public transparency of MATs’ expenditure, to make sure public money is delivering the best outcomes for pupils.

While the Bill focuses primarily on system reform, it is clear that the Government will only achieve its ambitions for education if these proposals are matched with adequate investment and concerted action to address the wider factors that shape children’s educational outcomes, such as poverty and disadvantage.

As the Bill progresses through Parliament, we continue to call on government to bring forward a long-term, cross-Whitehall strategy that tackles these issues and gives every child the best start in life.

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For more on the LGA’s parliamentary work, please visit www.local.gov.uk/parliament

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