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This Education Update comments on:
- The new School Organisation Framework, which came into force on 28 January 2014. This changes the process which proposers must follow when amalgamating, closing, establishing or altering a maintained school.
- DfE guidance on the academy/free school presumption (February 2014).
- Upcoming changes in 2014, including the new SEN framework, changes to the constitution regulations and home/school transport.
The new School Organisation Framework
On 28 January 2014, two sets of School Organisation regulations came into force, together with revised DfE Guidance. This has changed the process that proposers (e.g. local authorities and governing bodies) must follow in order to make a prescribed alteration to establish or to close a maintained school.
The overall framework now primarily comprises:
- The School Organisation (Prescribed Alterations to Maintained Schools) (England) Regulations 2013.
- The School Organisation (Establishment and Discontinuance of Schools) Regulations 2013.
- The Education and Inspections Act 2006.
- The DfE School Organisation: Maintained Schools, Guidance for proposers and decision -makers January 2014.
- The DfE Establishing new schools: Departmental advice for local authorities and new school proposers June 2013.
The new Regulations (which form part of the DfE's initiative to give schools more autonomy) aim to streamline the process relating to organisational change, allowing certain changes without following a formal statutory process (e.g. enlargement of premises).
This does not however, remove the requirement to adhere to public law principles, such as to act fairly and rationally and to take account of all relevant considerations. In addition, where a change is implemented, the Secretary of State must be informed, generally by updating the information on Edubase.
The new statutory processes for making prescribed alterations, closing or establishing new schools all involve similar (but by no means the same) mechanisms, including publication and representation stages.
Proposers must be mindful of the particular requirements within the legal framework detailed above. In particular, it will be important to be clear as to:
Timescales for each of the stages.
- Requirements as to the content of any formal Notice, the full proposal document and any requirements for the wording on the website of publication.
- The various publication obligations including the requirement to provide various interested parties with copies of the proposals.
- Awareness as to whether there are any related proposals, and any implications of this on issues such as timing and joint notices.
- Clarity as to the applicable process, and whether there is any tension between the obligations in the legislation compared to the DfE guidance.
The new DfE guidance on the academy/free school presumption
In February 2014, the DfE issued new guidance entitled "The academy/free school presumption: Departmental advice for local authorities and new school proposers".
The guidance covers the process where the academy presumption applies under section 6A of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 (as inserted by the Education Act 2011) in relation to the establishment of a new school. The stages of the process include local authority consultation; impact assessments; seeking proposals; funding arrangements; the assessment of proposals; and the involvement of the DfE in the process.
UPCOMING CHANGES IN 2014:
1. Maintained school governing body constitution: regulation changes.
School Governance (Constitution) (England) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/1034) and the School Governance (Roles, Procedures and Allowances) (England) Regulations 2013 (SI 2013/1624) - The DfE consultation to strengthen governance standards closed on 14 March 2014. It is anticipated that the revised regulations will come into force on 1 September 2014.
2. The Children and Families Act 2014
Following the various pilot schemes the Children and Families Act finally became law on 13 March 2014, and will come into force in September 2014. The Act brings in a huge shift in the SEN framework, and places a duty on local authorities to draw up integrated Education, Health and Care plans, and to set out a 'local offer' of SEN services available to parents and young people.
The key changes include:
- The introduction of Education, Health and Care plans in replacement of Statements for people aged 0-25.
- Personal budgets for parents and young people to carry out their EHC plans (draft regulations have just been laid before Parliament).
- A requirement on local authorities to provide a Local Offer which will include the education, health and care services.
3. DfE consults on plans to introduce new guidance on home to school transport
On 25 March 2014 the DfE invited views on proposals to introduce new Home to School Travel and Transport guidance. The law has not changed and the duty to provide home to school transport still remains with local authorities. However, the DfE believes the existing guidance should be changed to reflect the autonomous school system that is becoming common place as a result of the introduction of academies and the introduction of the academy presumption for new local schools.
The consultation closes on 3 June 2014.