Education (Wales) Bill highlights differences between Wales and England on school terms

A further example of divergence of education policy between Wales and England has been provided by the example of the two governments’ plans for school term dates.

On the same day (1 July 2013) as the Welsh Government set out its proposal to ensure that school term (and holiday) dates are the same across Wales through its introduction into the Assembly of the Education (Wales) Bill, the UK Government’s publication of the Draft Deregulation Bill intends to do almost exactly the opposite in England.

Under the Welsh Government’s Education (Wales) Bill, local authorities and governing bodies of voluntary aided and foundation schools would encouraged to work together to harmonise school dates as they are now.  However, crucially, the Welsh Government would have the power to step in and direct them on what their term dates must be, where they had failed to agree on these.

Interestingly, the Draft Deregulation Bill would transfer the responsibility for setting term dates away from local authorities in England and give this instead to the governing bodies of the schools themselves.  This has triggered some concerns from teaching unions in England, including the National Union of Teachers (NUT) which said in a press release that the plans would ‘cause chaos for families’ in England.   NUT Cymru has been broadly supportive of the Welsh Government’s plans to harmonise school terms saying that ‘having a consistent term structure across local authorities in Wales would be the most appropriate and convenient system for students, teachers and parents’ (NUT Cymru response to the Welsh Government’s consultation last autumn).

Harmonisation of school terms is just one of the areas covered by the Education (Wales) Bill.  The Bill also proposes to extend the current requirement for teachers to register with a professional registration body, (presently the General Teaching Council for Wales) to the wider education workforce, including school learning support workers as well as teachers and learning support workers in Further Education.  This would be done through a new registration body which would be known as the Education Workforce Council.

The Bill also sets to changes to the way that young people’s additional learning needs are assessed post-16 and new processes for how subsequent provision is made and funded.  The changes would see local authorities taking on additional responsibilities in this area, which as they are already involved, including in the process up until the age of 16, the Welsh Government believes will result in less complex and bureaucratic system.

A simplification of the process under which independent schools register to admit learners with special educational needs, for which they are currently two routes set out in legislation, is also included in the Bill.  Finally, there are proposed procedural changes to the way in which the Chief Inspector and Inspectors are appointed to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Education and Training in Wales, Estyn.

The Education (Wales) Bill has now begun its journey through the legislative process and the Children and Young People Committee will be hearing evidence and undertaking scrutiny over the coming months.

Article written by Michael Dauncey, National Assembly for Wales Research Service.