The Government has removed large sections of its Schools Bill following concerns in the House of Lords that the Bill would undermine academies’ autonomy.
In a letter to the Lords, academies minister Baroness Barran said that the Government would be removing clauses 1 to 4 and Schedule 1 of the Bill, which would have introduced new standards that all academies would need to follow, as well as extending the laws for maintained schools to academies.
These aspects of the Bill have been sharply criticised in the Lords, with former academies ministers Lord Nash and Lord Agnew, alongside former education secretary Lord Baker, tabling amendments to the Bill over their concerns that academies would lose their freedoms under the new “draconian” provisions.
In the letter, Baroness Barran said that the Government was “grateful for the scrutiny” of the Bill in the Lords, adding that the Government “recognises the concerns about the possible future use of these powers that are not in line with our intention of preserving academy freedoms”.
The Government said it would also support amendments removing clauses 5 to 18 in the Bill, which focused on the termination of academy funding agreements, adding that it would develop “revised clauses” through a regulatory and commissioning review to address the Lords’ concerns.
Headteachers praised the move, adding that the proposals had been a “power-grab” from Whitehall to centralise control over academies.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We are pleased that the Government is scrapping clauses in the Schools Bill which would have handed unprecedented powers to the Education Secretary over virtually every aspect of the running of academies from the length of the school day to the spiritual development of pupils to the handling of complaints.
“It was a ridiculous attempt to centralise power in Whitehall over matters which are obviously much better decided by professional educators who know the needs of their schools and their pupils.
“This power-grab was rightly called out by members of the House of Lords from across the political spectrum and we are grateful for their intervention.
He added: “We note that the Government intends to come back with new proposals as part of its drive for full academisation. We hope that these proposals will be far more proportionate and sensible.”
Mr Barton said that the Government should be focusing its efforts on improving the shortage of teachers and helping schools with rising costs instead of spending an “enormous amount” of time and money on “structural adjustments”.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “As we work towards all schools in strong academy trusts, we have been clear that the current regulatory system must evolve to retain parents’ confidence and make sure every school in every trust is helping their pupils fulfil their potential.
“We therefore remain committed to the Schools Bill putting clear academy trust standards on a legal footing, and allowing for the Government to intervene directly in the rare cases of academy trust failure.”
They added that the regulatory review of academy trusts, which involves an expert advisory group, running parallel to the Bill, “will propose what the standards should be and how intervention should work”.
“But we are listening to concerns from peers about how the provisions in the Bill would operate in practice, and will make sure the Bill protects and strengthens the fundamental freedoms academies enjoy,” they said.
“That is why we are supporting the temporary removal of clauses 1-18 from the Bill, in advance of bringing back revised clauses later in the Bill’s passage through Parliament.”
Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “This is a major climbdown from (Education Secretary) Nadhim Zahawi and confirms this chaotic government has no plan to drive-up standards in our schools and improve outcomes for our children.
“Just days ago the schools minister told the Commons these were important provisions. Now the Government has binned them. The Conservatives are in a mess trying to rush through laws to avoid scrutiny and distract from their own incompetence.
“Labour is focused on improving outcomes for all our children. From recruiting thousands of new teachers to support classroom learning, to ensuring children get professional careers advice at school, Labour has a plan to help every child achieve and thrive.”