New legislation to drive up education standards

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The Government today committed to the introduction of new legislation to improve the lives of children and families, drive up standards in schools and to make the education and training system for young people and adults more responsive and flexible.

Improving education and skills is a central component of our efforts to meet the economic challenges that we face today and those we’ll face in the future. Given the current economic uncertainties, it is more important than ever that we have the right systems in place to deliver our ambitions.

The Children, Skills and Learning Bill will:

* provide new powers to strengthen Children’s Trusts;

* improve local services for children and parents;

* strengthen confidence in qualifications by legislating to establish Qfqual;

* provide a right to those in work to request time for training;

* establish the skills funding agency which will take over responsibility – in 2010 – for adult skills funding from the Learning and Skill Council;

* establish the national apprenticeship service to administer the expanded apprenticeship programme.

The Bill marks an important step in plans to raise the education and training leaving age. Central to the Bill are proposals to overhaul the education and skills funding systems by transferring responsibility for the funding of 16 to 19 learning to local authorities so that they become the single point of accountability for all 0 -19 children’s services.

The Bill will also create a skills system that is more flexible and responsive to the needs of individual learners, businesses and the economy as a whole. The bureaucracy and regulation of the current system can sometimes be frustrating for employers and the SFA will be designed to be demand led. This will include introducing skills accounts for individual learners.

Secretary of State for Children Schools and Families, Ed Balls, said:

“This Bill marks a significant step towards the vision set out in the Children’s Plan to improve schools and training to deliver excellence for all.

“This Bill underlines our commitment to revolutionising the education system so that it delivers for all young people whatever their interests or abilities. Local Authorities will play a key role in making this happen as they are best placed to respond to the needs of young people locally.

“These reforms will mean that delivery of learning and skills provision and other support to children and their families is locally owned, locally integrated and also accountable and responsive to individuals’ needs and choices. I am confident the new streamlined Young People’s Learning Agency will support local authorities as they make these reforms a reality.”

Skills Secretary John Denham said:

“The new system will free up colleges and providers to be more innovative and entrepreneurial. And the new funding agency will have greater capacity to ensure that skills bottle-necks and strategic skills needs are tackled.

“The Learning and Skills Council has done a good job over the past eight years, but it is time to make sure that the system is more flexible so that it delivers for students and businesses, particularly given the economic downturn.

“This new Bill will also give every working person a new legal right to request time to train. It is only right that all our people have a chance to have a meaningful conversation about improving their skills and this new right will give them this chance.

“And the Bill will put apprenticeships on a legal footing for the first time. We have rescued and expanded apprenticeships. Ten years ago only 65,000 people started apprenticeships and today that number has nearly trebled to 183,000.”

As set out in the White Paper, Raising Expectations: Enabling the System to Deliver, the reforms will include the transfer of £7 billion per year to local authorities for the planning, commissioning and funding of 16-19 education and training. By doing so, we are creating a much clearer and stronger link between the outcomes for young people and the economic regeneration of regions. This recognises the critical role local authorities have in local economic regeneration alongside the Regional Development Agencies.

The Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) will support local authorities when they become accountable for 16-19 learners in the 2010/11 academic year and will make sure they are working together and provision is coherent where pupils are travelling across LA boundaries. Early arrangements to support the transfer of duties to LAs will be put in place during the Autumn 2009 so that learners are able to make their choices for the following year.

At the same time Government will direct £4 billion a year through a new slim line Skills Funding Agency (SFA). Central to the new system will be the way in which funding will follow the choices of learners much more closely. The SFA will focus on results rather than processes, allowing colleges and providers to be more innovative and entrepreneurial in how and what they deliver, and to respond more closely to the needs of their local and regional business and learner communities It will have responsibility for funding Train to Gain and for ensuring that providers are properly accredited. And it will work closely with regional partners to play a much more proactive and innovative role in tackling the country’s strategic skills needs

Today’s speech also signalled the child poverty bill, with new legislation to enshrine in law the commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2020.

The Bill will set a long term framework to drive action across government and with our delivery partners to make sure we take action now to tackle the causes and consequences of poverty.

Ed Balls said:

“We are committed to eradicating child poverty and have already lifted 600,000 children out of poverty since 1997. Further measures announced to date will lift around a further 500,000 out of poverty. The new legislation demonstrates the strength of our commitment and will help us to meet our goal of eradicating child poverty by 2020.

“Eradicating child poverty requires an approach that makes sustainable progress in improving children’s life chances for the longer term. This legislation will drive action across government and with our delivery partners to give our commitment a new impetus. It will make sure we take action now to tackle the causes as well as the consequences of poverty.”

Other proposals in the Children, Skills and Learning Bill include:

* establishment of an independent regulator of examinations and tests (Ofqual) and a development agency for curriculum, assessment and qualifications (QCDA), which will continue to maintain high standards and confidence in the exams and qualifications system;

* reform of Pupil Referral Units by strengthening the Secretary of State’s powers to intervene when they’re failing;

* for the first time, it will bring young offenders in custody under the education legislative regime and will align arrangements for educating young people in custody with those for young people in the ‘mainstream’ education sector;

* strengthen Children’s Trusts to take responsibility for improving children’s lives by joining up local services. Every local authority will be required by law to have a Children’s Trust Board with responsibility for producing the Children and Young People’s Plan;

* more powers for schools to tackle disruptive behaviour, including powers to search for alcohol, drugs and stolen items. All secondary schools will be required to work in Behaviour Improvement Partnerships to improve behaviour and tackle persistent absence;

* a new reserve power for the Secretary of State to ensure that local authorities use their powers appropriately to intervene on a timely basis in underperforming schools;

* a more streamlined route for parents to have complaints about schools heard and dealt with, therefore improving their ability to hold schools to account;

* stronger powers for the Government to enforce compliance with the Standard Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document, this will make sure teachers have time to properly prepare for lessons.

The Children, Skills and Learning Bill website is .uk/childrenskillsandlearningbill/

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