Haslers Spotlight on Education – December 2022

Haslers Spotlight on Education – December 2022

Welcome to our latest Spotlight on Education newsletter.


We hope you enjoy this edition which highlights some of the latest news and issues affecting the education sector.


In working with individual academies, academy chains, free schools and independent schools, our dedicated education team can deliver the comprehensive knowledge and expertise that education leaders look for.


Schools Bill shelved in current form


The controversial Schools Bill, which would have pushed for all schools to become part of multi academy trusts (MATs) by the end of the decade, appears to have been scrapped in its current form.


Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, has confirmed to parliament that the Bill “will not progress” to its third reading in the House of Lords but has suggested that as certain parts of the Government’s proposals do not require legislative changes, there will be aspects that may still be implemented.


Ms Keegan told MPS that “parliamentary time has definitely been reprioritised” to focus on the cost-of-living crisis “because of the pandemic aftershocks but also the war in Ukraine”.


Reiterating that her department would “remain committed” to the objectives of the Schools Bill, she underlined that she would be “prioritising some aspects of the bill as well to see what we can do”.


“A lot of the Schools White Paper is being implemented and didn’t require legislation in many cases,” citing a register of children who are not in school as being “definitely a priority”.


National Association of Head Teachers general secretary Paul Whiteman said that it had been “inevitable” that the Government would eventually have to scrap the Schools Bill but said it was “a shame that the sensible and necessary elements of the bill that we did support have been thrown into the long grass alongside the others”.


“The introduction of a register of children not in school, for example, is something we believe is important to improve safeguarding for children, as is the crackdown on illegal schools,” Mr Whiteman said.


“We hope these elements of the bill won’t be lost entirely.”



£500million for energy efficiency upgrades in schools and colleges announced


The Department of Education has confirmed that the sector will receive additional funds to shield schools from high energy bills and boost to budgets.


Schools and colleges in England will be allocated a share of £500million to spend on energy efficiency upgrades, helping to save on bills during the winter months and manage energy consumption.


Estimations show that on average, a primary school will receive approximately £16,000, a secondary school will get £42,000 and a further education college group will benefit from £290,000.  Improvements could include installing better heating controls, insulation to reduce heat loss from pipes or switching to energy efficient lighting.


This builds on the Government’s Energy Relief Scheme, which is supporting schools and colleges this winter, and will run until the spring.


On top of this, as announced in the Autumn Statement, the Government is investing an extra £2 billion funding for schools next year and the year after.


This £2 billion of new money will be allocated between mainstream schools and high needs funding. Local councils will get an extra £400 million for high needs budgets, to help support children with special educational needs or disabilities.


Academies, maintained mainstream schools and special schools will all be guaranteed a funding boost, which will arrive from April next year.


This means average funding per pupil for mainstream schools will increase by approximately five percent overall, in the next financial year compared to 2022-23.


A typical primary school with 200 pupils will get approximately £28,000, and secondary schools with around 900 pupils will receive approximately £170,000. In total schools will be receiving £58.8 billion in 2024-25.


New guidance has also been published today (Tuesday 6 December) to support schools to maximise energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and improve sustainability and resilience this winter and beyond.


This funding comes on top of £1.8 billion of capital funding already committed this year for improving the condition of school buildings. The Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme is also investing over £1.4 billion in public sector buildings, including schools over the next three financial years.


Education Secretary says focus must be on inflation as grammar school plans take a back seat


In recent months, the number of Government policy U-turns resulting from the keys to Number 10 changing hands three times in the space of just seven weeks, has affected virtually every ministerial department.


In education, the changing fortunes of grammar schools has been keenly felt in recent weeks.


Liz Truss made no secret of her support for grammar schools, asking former Education Secretary, Kit Malthouse to lift the current ban and prioritise plans for new grammar schools across England.


However, with Ms Truss’ demise and the appointment of Rishi Sunak as the new Prime Minister in late October, new Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, has made it clear that she instead intends to focus on the majority of pupils in “comprehensive education”.


In Nick Robinson’s Political Thinking podcast, Ms Keegan said: “The thing about grammar schools is 90-odd per cent of kids just never get to go to one.


“What I’m focused on is the 90-odd per cent who will go to comprehensive education, like I did.


“I’m not against them – people who went to grammar school see them as a life-changing moment, and they have changed lives like my apprenticeship changed lives, so people love them. But we’ve got to focus on the 90-odd per cent who don’t get to go.”


Although Rishi Sunak had previously made it clear that he supported grammar schools during his first failed leadership bid, he has not publicly stated whether he intends to lift the ban on new grammar schools being built.


Ms Keegan has said that, rather than being drawn on the future of grammar schools, her department’s priority is to ensure that all schools are supported during this fiscally challenging times.


In Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement, an additional £2.3 billion was pledged to support schools. However, a detailed breakdown of how this money will be spent is still awaited.


Ms Keegan has, in turn, said that her focus will be to support the Government in its plans to “tackle inflation and bring it under control”.


Although she has promised to “put the case for education”, she warned that “any spending decision that’s made, any, whether it’s up or down, any of it will all get eaten by inflation. So the number one thing you have to do is you need to get inflation under control. Otherwise all the other numbers are kind of irrelevant”.


ESFA annual report shines spotlight on cost savings and internal failings

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has published its annual report, which highlights how the ‘arms-length’ DfE body has been performing in the last financial year.

The organisation, which was tasked with finding savings across the sector through its ‘school resource management advisers’ initiative – more commonly known as ESFA cost-cutters – identified a total of £292million of potential savings during 366 school visits.

However, the annual report does not reveal whether the schools identified went on to make these savings to their budget.

The annual report also reveals a number of errors and failings by the ESFA in the last financial year.

These include:

  • A £2.1million payment being sent the wrong recipient due a reference number being incorrectly inputted into the ESFA’s system. The money was subsequently recovered and the ESFA has pledged to improve its systems to avoid similar errors.


  • A late submission to reclaim VAT led to the ESFA losing £2.5million


The annual report also detailed a number of significant debt write-offs where money owed to the ESFA was waived as a result of the closure of a trust or during a rebrokerage deal. The Authority wrote of £700, 000 owed by Sexeys School Trust and £1.9million of debt which had been accrued by University Technical Colleges.

The report also reveals that the ESFA has made a contingency in the event that it loses an Employment Tribunal which is due to conclude in April 2023, which could cost the organisation £75,000 in loss of earnings and legal costs.

Although the ESFA continues to lose money from fraud, the report records five less allegations than one year ago. In total, the ESFA lost £1.5 million to fraudulent activity, with £244,132 recovered. Meanwhile, trusts lost £548,383 – a significant reduction on the £1.3 million lost during the previous financial year.

Independent Schools CEO welcomes report into abuse

The Chief Executive of the Independent Schools Council has welcomed a report into child abuse in residential schools, following a seven-year wide-ranging inquiry.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in England and Wales, which was published in full this autumn, examined how institutions responsible for the welfare of children handled their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse.

The report included an investigation into sexual abuse and exploitation of children in residential schools in both the state and independent sectors.

The inquiry explored how schools and other agencies responded to allegations of sexual abuse by school staff, and addressed broad questions of school culture, governance, leadership, training and recruitment.

During its inquiry, IICSA found multiple institutions had failed in their duties to protect children in schools, including local authorities, schools inspectorates and the police.

Inquiry principal researcher Holly Rodger said: “By speaking directly to people on the frontline of safeguarding in residential schools, we were able to build a clear picture of the complex challenges they face.

“The safeguarding concerns of a sexual nature recorded most frequently by schools were online and peer on peer incidents. These were the same areas that school staff, parents and children saw as ‘grey areas’ that could be hard to classify.

“This report will help shape recommendations to improve safeguarding and better protect children from sexual abuse in residential schools.”

ISC Chief Executive Julie Robinson, responded saying: “We welcome the publication of IICSA’s report providing valuable recommendations to inform the safeguarding of children, which is of central importance to everyone working with young people.

“There is no place for abuse in schools or anywhere in society, and we admire the courage of those brave survivors who have come forward to provide vital contributions to the inquiry.

“In recent years, schools have taken their duties of care very seriously in supporting a raft of measures in the development of detailed safeguarding policies, procedures and targeted inspections. Encouraging pupils to speak out, listening to them and accommodating their needs is very much a priority, and the safety and welfare of children is the foremost responsibility of schools.

“The abuse of trust by predatory individuals is shocking and unforgiveable, and the ISC, associations and schools are now reviewing this report in detail. The ISC supports any form of mandatory reporting that would further safeguard and improve child protection procedures.”

Ofsted research into Alternative Provision highlights SEND funding issues

New research from Ofsted has found that a lack of access to specialist support means more primary school children with additional needs are being referred to alternative provision (AP).

Schools typically refer individuals to AP when they are unable to manage physical or verbally violent behaviour and where there are negative effects on other pupils and staff.

Latest figures suggest around 7,000 primary-age children in England are in AP – a number which has risen by over a quarter in the last 5 years.

To understand why the number of young pupils being referred to AP is increasing, the research explored the role that AP plays in the education system and the reasons primary-age children are referred there in the first place.

It also investigated the challenges schools and APs face in supporting young children with additional needs, and how individuals are re-integrated into the mainstream classroom wherever possible.

Ofsted’s study found that most primary-age pupils only stayed in AP for a few weeks or months, and usually attended part time. However, a small proportion with additional needs stayed in AP for years whilst waiting for a specialist school place to become available.

In these situations, Ofsted highlighted concerns that the absence of appropriate teaching and specialist support could have long-term consequences.

Primary school staff also reported that the strain on specialist services nationally – made worse by the pandemic – has made it more difficult to support SEND pupils.

They also cited limited access to professional help, such as speech and language therapists or educational psychology services, claiming this could result in more AP referrals and permanent exclusions.

The research found that many children were referred to an AP when their schools’ support strategies had not worked – either because of a lack of training, funding or facilities.

Ofsted also revealed that a large majority of children in the study had social, emotional and /or health needs which aligns with national statistics on pupils referred to AP.

His Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, said: “It seems shocking that primary age children, as young as five, could be taken out of school for violent behaviour. But, as our study shows, AP can be a positive choice for these children and play a transformative role in their young lives.

“But limited access to external services, and lengthy waiting times for a special school place, mean some vulnerable children languish for years in APs that cannot provide the specialist support they need. And the consequences for these children may last well into their adult lives.

“The report states that a high-quality curriculum and high-quality teaching are crucial in preventing pupils’ needs from developing or worsening. Teachers would also benefit from improved access to appropriate external services, and opportunities to develop the right knowledge and skills. This could allow more mainstream schools to support pupils with additional needs, avoiding an AP referral or exclusion.”

Teachers ballot suggests overwhelmingly support for strike action in 2023

Members of the country’s largest teaching union have voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action in the New Year.

The National Education Union, which has more than 300,000 members in England and Wales, carried out the national ballot in October.

Although it will need to carry out a further formal postal ballot to confirm members’ intentions, the initial feedback, from 62% of teacher members and 68% of support staff members from across more than 23,000 schools, showed that:

  • 98% of teacher members believe that all teachers should receive a fully funded, above-inflation pay rise
  • 86% of teacher members would be willing to take strike action to demand that rise
  • 92% of support staff reject the employers’ final pay offer for 2022/23
  • 78% of support staff would vote yes to strike action

Teachers in Scotland have already taken industrial action, with two days of walkouts in December.

Kevin Courtney and Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretaries of the National Education Union, said:   “The latest financial statement from the fourth Chancellor in as many months, will do nothing to quell the anger of teachers and support staff as they face yet another real-terms pay cut.

“Teachers have lost 20% in real terms since 2010, and for support staff in the same period the loss stands at 27%. This is simply unsustainable.

At least 50 per cent of eligible members need to vote in the ballot with at least 40 per cent of eligible members voting in favour of strike action. If sufficient number of teachers and support staff in England and Wales vote in favour, strikes could take place as early as January 30, 2023.

Labour’s VAT on schools fees could cost the country millions, ISC claims

A report, commissioned by the Independent Schools Council, outlines what it sees as the serious financial consequences of Labour’s plans to charge VAT on independent schools fees.

Significantly, it claims that Labour’s VAT on fees policy would cost the Government at least £416million in its fifth year once pupil displacement and VAT recovery is taken into account.

Currently, education is largely exempt from VAT, being viewed as essential and for the public good. However, Labour has set out in its latest manifesto a number of changes including making school fees liable for VAT for the first time.

The ISC has argues that this would have a considerable impact on the independent schools’ sector, ranging, on a school-by-school basis, from “tough, to catastrophic”.

The Council, which represents over 1,300 schools in the UK independent education sector, claims the knock-on effect would cause additional strains for the state education sector because many parents would no longer be able to afford independent education.

It also warned that some independent schools would need to close entirely, and most schools would need to scale-back their educational offer, whether by merging classes, stopping certain subjects, limiting curriculum choices, dropping co-curricular activities or reducing the pastoral care they provide.

The ISC claims the extent of these changes could mean that the UK’s educational offer and its international attractiveness would be harmed.

In its report, the ISC also argues that:

  • The VAT policy would cause significant upheaval and disruption to the lives and education of many tens of thousands of children, often at key stages of their lives
  • The sheer number of pupils leaving the sector and needing to be educated by the state would also place great strains on the maintained sector, with the need to build new schools and classrooms and absorb many pupils quickly
  • VAT-on-fees would force most schools to review the level of means-tested fee assistance they are able to provide through “transformational bursaries” to children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

ISC chief executive Julie Robinson said: “Labour’s proposal to charge VAT on independent school fees will have the greatest impact on the families who work the hardest to pay the fees. These parents are striving to do the best for their children and often sacrifice other spending to pay school fees – their right to make choices over education should not be undermined by a tax on aspiration.

“Ultimately, the policy would threaten the survival of the smallest independent schools, which operate on tight margins and without large endowments. Most independent schools have fewer than 400 pupils on roll, and these small schools, serving their local communities, would be at risk of closure.

“Everyone working in independent schools wants to see a well-funded state school system and for all children to get a great education. Research shows that Labour’s policy will reduce the amount of money available to improve state schools. In the fifth year of a policy, with independent schools closing and additional pupils moving into the state sector, the Department for Education will be losing more than £400 million per year from the schools budget.

“Instead of counter-productive tax rises on parents, independent schools want to support state schools by building upon partnership work with their friends and colleagues in the state sector. Thousands of these projects are underway, improving education for all, and strengthening bonds between schools. Partnership – not punitive taxes – is the best way for independent schools to contribute to catch-up efforts and create more learning opportunities for all pupils.”

Ofsted chief sets out five-year plan

Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, has set out her organisation’s five-year plan, which details its priorities for raisin standards across the sector.

Speaking at the National Children and Adult Services (NCASC) annual conference, Ms Spielman told delegates: “Like you, we have continued with our work while adjusting to big changes in context. But we have also been looking to the future. We recently published a new five-year strategy taking us to 2027…. that reflects on the last 5 years, especially the pressures the pandemic put on our sectors, but it does also look forward to recovery and beyond.”

During her speech, she highlighted five of the Inspectorate’s eight key priorities including:

  • Inspections that raise standards
  • Delivering ‘right touch regulation’
  • Keeping children safe
  • Keeping pace with sector changes
  • Making sure children get ‘the best start in life’

Highlighting the need to make ‘the best start in life’ a top priority, Ms Spielman said: “Children only get one childhood. Each of us has a role in making sure we are getting it right from the start. We make no apology for prioritising the early years.

“Over the last year we have published reports highlighting the serious impact the pandemic has had on some of the youngest children.

“There are clear concerns about the impact on children’s social and wider development. Many have gaps in communication and language skills and are behind where they should be in personal, social, emotional, and physical development.”

Responding to concerns raised about Ofsted’s inspection process, she said: “Coming out of the pandemic, schools and nurseries told us they wanted stability and continuity, including in the inspection model. That is why we are allowing the Education Inspection Framework (EIF) to embed properly rather than change it to focus on pandemic recovery.

“We have [also] recently published our new guidance for Joint Targeted Area Inspections (JTAIs). We will look at how children’s social care, education, health, and the police, work together to reduce risks and harm to children and to give early help.”

Explaining Ofsted’s focus on ‘right touch regulation’, she continued:  “We know that our ‘right touch regulation’ strategic priority is so important to the sector right now. Proportionate and risk-based regulation is critical to ensuring good outcomes for children.

“There have been several recent reviews and reports with recommendations for Ofsted and for the sectors we work with. We welcome these contributions and the ongoing discussions that they bring. We’ll continue to support improvement based on the recommendations we and you have been making for a number of years to deliver the best possible outcomes for children.

“Where there are lessons for Ofsted to learn, we will take that on board. We will continue to use our regulatory powers with careful thought and only where we have serious concerns. But, when we find care that is simply not good enough, it is right that we continue to act.”