School policies now in limbo as purdah looms

School policies now in limbo as purdah looms

Policy proposals for schools and academies will be delayed or scrapped now that a general election has been called for July 4.

The government enters the pre-election “purdah” period on Saturday, where public bodies are restricted from making announcements and decisions that could influence voting decisions.

Even if the Conservatives remain in power, there is no guarantee that a new Conservative administration will maintain its current plans for policy and trade contracts.

Bodies including government departments, local authorities, quangos such as Oak National Academy and non-ministerial departments including Ofsted are affected.

Previously, purdah meant public officials could not sign school funding agreements, affecting new free schools and academy conversions.

Ofsted does not publish reports making council-wide judgments and may not publish “inadequate” reports in cases subject to “significant local political campaigning”.

Any decision not made before Saturday will likely be stuck in electoral limbo.

What does all this mean for schools? Here is your confidence Schools week explainer…

The queries: MSL and ABS scrapped?

There are at least seven consultations on proposed new policies that will be affected.

The consultation on Advanced British Standard closed in March. A white paper on plans to reform qualifications, which included making maths and English compulsory until the age of 18, was also promised later this year.

The Labor Party has suggested it will scrap the plan if it forms the next government.

Labor has also promised to backtrack on proposed minimum service levels that would apply to schools where staff are on strike. The government has yet to respond to a consultation on this issue which closed in January.

The government has also failed to respond to a consultation on non-compulsory optional home education which would ask councils to keep voluntary records of children who are out of school.

A consultation on draft guidance for schools on children’s gender questioning closed in March and a response has yet to be published.

The recently launched consultation on new legal relationships and guidance on sexuality and health education will run until July.

The Government is also currently seeking views on proposals to remove the 50 per cent admission cap on religious schools. The consultation closes in June. Elsewhere it is seeking views on new national rules for unregistered alternative benefits.

The policies: The workload and curricular plans in the air

A final set of recommendations from the workload reduction task force was due this spring. Ministers had promised to reduce teachers’ workload by five hours a week.

The sector has also been awaiting the promised recruitment and retention strategy update for 2019. Both are now up in the air.

A model history curriculum, first promised in October 2021, has yet to see the light of day. Last year the DfE said it would be published in 2024.

The cultural education plan, first committed in March 2022, has also not been published. In February, the DfE said it would be published “in the coming months”.

Ministers are also yet to consult on the content of a new natural history GCSE, due to be introduced in September next year.

Meanwhile, SEND reforms are currently being trialled, and decisions on the nationwide rollout of local inclusion plans and national standards will rest with the next government.

Other things: teacher pay, Ofsted and academisation

One of the biggest impacts will likely be the process of setting teacher salaries for September, which will likely be delayed until after the election.

Ofsted’s ‘Big Listen’ exercise also ends next week, meaning no decisions can be made before the July polls. The Labor Party intends to hold consultations on scrapping its qualifications system and replacing it with a “report card”.

Flick Drummond
Flick Drummond

Some 800 maintained schools are also in the process of academization, something that could slow down.

Conservative MP Flick Drummond’s private members’ bill for a register of out-of-school children, which was supported by the government, will not advance when parliament is dissolved next week. But the Labor Party has committed to implementing the policy.

An “independent” review of Oak National Academy, due to be completed in September, will fall to the next government.

Interviews for Ofqual’s permanent chief regulator ended in April, but the preferred candidate has yet to be announced, another decision that could have consequences.

The government was also due to respond to the Khan Review on teacher harassment before the summer holidays.