1. Background

In its 2019 general election manifesto, the Conservative Party pledged that a Conservative government would: invest in schools; “level up Britain’s skills” by investing in more technical qualifications and apprenticeships; and maintain and strengthen the country’s “global position in higher education”.

The priorities outlined in the 2021 Queen’s Speech reflected the impact of Covid-19 and included pledges to address learning lost during the pandemic. The background notes accompanying the speech explained this would include the development of an “ambitious, long-term plan” on education recovery. The speech also pledged legislation to support a lifetime skills guarantee and to strengthen freedom of speech and academic freedom in higher education.

Legislation introduced in the 2021–22 session included the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which aimed to implement policies set out in the Government’s 2021 Skills for Jobs white paper and received royal assent on 28 April 2022. In addition, the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill completed its committee stage in the House of Commons in September 2021, before being subject to a carry-over motion on 25 April 2022. This means it will continue its progress in the next parliamentary session.

The 2022–23 parliamentary session is likely to be dominated by recently announced proposals from the white paper Opportunity for All: Strong Schools with Great Teachers for Your Child, published on 28 March 2022. In addition, the Government published the green paper SEND Review: Right Support, Right Place, Right Time in the same month. It examined provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The Government also set out its mission to increase attainment in primary schools and to increase the number of people successfully completing skills training in its white paper Levelling Up the United Kingdom, published in February 2022.

2. Schools and home learning

2.1 Impact of Covid-19

Research suggests that the impact of Covid-19 on those working in and attending schools has been substantial. The last two years have witnessed multiple school closures and frequent rule changes to how teaching should be provided. The impact of the pandemic on learning has been examined by several organisations, including the Sutton Trust, Institute for Fiscal Studies and National Foundation for Educational Research.

In March 2022, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) published research which showed that although some learning losses for primary pupils had shown signs of recovery since the 2020/21 summer term, there had been further losses for secondary school pupils in terms of attainment in reading. In addition, EPI pointed to the variations in how big this loss was, with disadvantaged pupils likely to experience greater learning loss than their more advantaged peers. Large regional disparities also persisted, with pupils in parts of the north of England and the Midlands seeing greater losses than those living in other regions.

In recent months the number of pupils and teachers missing school due to Covid-19 remained high. Concerns have been raised about higher chronic absence rates in schools because of the pandemic. Using absence data from 2020, the Centre for Social Justice found 93,514 pupils missed more than 50% of school sessions between September to December 2020. Often described as “ghost children”, the figures used have been disputed, but concerns remain about children and young people who are chronically absent from school.

The Covid-19 pandemic also appears to have played a role in recent increases in the number of children who are home educated in England. However, it should be noted that accurate figures are hard to assess as registration of home education is currently voluntary and data is not collected centrally or published by the Department for Education (DfE). On 2 April 2019, the Government published a consultation on proposed legislation concerning children not in school. The consultation sought views on the introduction of:

  • A register of children of compulsory school age who are not registered at schools of a certain type.
  • A duty on parents to inform a local authority if their children are within the scope of such a register.
  • A duty on education settings attended by the children on the register to respond to enquiries from local authorities about the education provided to individual children.
  • A duty on local authorities to provide support to home educating families.

The consultation closed on 24 June 2019. The Government, in its response, indicated that it intended to legislate for a register of children not in school.

Finally, concerns remain regarding the impact of the pandemic on areas such as children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

2.2 Schools white paper

On 28 March 2022, the Government published Opportunity for All: Strong Schools with Great Teachers for Your Child. Outlining his vision for education in the white paper’s foreword, Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi stated:

I want every child to get a great education and the right support, in the right place, and at the right time. That means that we need to go from roughly seven in ten children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths by the end of primary school to nine in ten children by 2030, and improve the national GCSE average grade in both English language and in maths. This white paper sets out how we will achieve that.

The wide-ranging paper included a number of proposals, amongst them:

  • Legislation to “modernise” recording of school attendance, creating new statutory guidance on attendance and a requirement for every school to publish a clear attendance policy. The paper includes proposals to create a “national data solution” to allow trusts, local authorities and the DfE to share data and “provide a safety net for vulnerable children at risk of falling through the net”. The white paper includes proposals to set new statutory expectations of local authority attendance services, with schools and local authorities expected to work closely with these bodies to re-engage children who are ‘severely absent’ (those missing more than 50% of their sessions in school).
  • Legislation to establish a register for children not in school. It also said it would look at how data could be used by local authorities and multi-agency teams “to support children’s education”.
  • Legislation to increase Ofsted’s powers to inspect schools “that are operating illegally without registration”. It claimed this would address risks to the safeguarding and education of children who attend these non-registered schools.
  • Proposals to deliver “a fully trust led system with a single regulatory approach”. The white paper set a target date of 2030 for all schools to be part of, or in the process of joining, a multi-academy trust (MAT). In addition, it proposed combining new and existing requirements on academy trusts, currently set out in legislation and funding agreements, into statutory academy trust standards, including new statutory intervention powers. The Government also plans to introduce new powers enabling the secretary of state to bring a local authority’s maintained schools into the academy system where a local authority has requested it. The proposals are discussed more in the Lords Library briefing ‘Education: Multi-academy trusts’ (31 March 2022).
  • Revision of the behaviour in schools guidance and the statutory suspension and permanent exclusion guidance to “provide more practical support to school leaders”. The launch of a national behaviour study to “better understand what parents, children, teachers and leaders think of behaviour and wellbeing in their school”.
  • Plans to strengthen statutory safeguarding guidance.

2.3 School funding

In March 2022, the Government stated that it intended to “bring forward the relevant legislation required at the earliest opportunity” following its consultation on school funding. The consultation had examined potential changes to the national funding formula (NFF) to move to a “direct” schools national funding formula. The Government’s response to the consultation explained:

The schools NFF is a single, national formula that allocates the core funding for all mainstream primary and secondary schools, both maintained and academies, in England. Since its introduction, the NFF has been a ‘local authority-level’ formula. This means that the department, through the NFF, calculates funding allocations in relation to each individual mainstream school, based on its particular characteristics. These individual school-level allocations are then aggregated for each local authority (LA). The LA, from its aggregated total, then determines individual schools’ final funding allocations through a local formula, which it is responsible for setting.

While the department has set parameters within which local formulae must operate, LAs have discretion about the amount of funding put towards each factor and some flexibility over which factors to use in their local formulae—therefore an individual school’s funding can, and often does, vary from that which the NFF itself allocates, and from that which similar schools, in other LAs, receive. As set out in the initial consultation on the NFF, our intention since the introduction of the NFF has been to move in time to a funding system in which all individual schools’ funding allocations are set directly by the national formula without substantial further local adjustment.

Outlining its proposed next steps in the consultation response, the Government stated that it would bring forward legislation “when parliamentary time allows”. It committed to “a careful and measured” approach to this transition, which it recognised would be “complex”, and a further consultation in spring 2022 to examine how the schools NFF was calculated.

2.4 Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)

The current system of support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) was introduced in 2014. In September 2019, the Government announced a review of the SEND system.

On 29 March 2022, the DfE announced a consultation on reforms to create a “stronger national system for children with special educational needs and disabilities”. Planned reforms were outlined in the accompanying green paper, SEND Review: Right Support, Right Place, Right Time, which builds on the findings of the review announced in 2019. The DfE has also published a summary of the green paper.

The paper includes proposals to set cross-cutting national standards for a higher performing SEND system and introduce a simplified education, health and care plan (EHCP). It made a pledge to introduce statutory national SEND standards:

We propose to create new national SEND standards spanning early years settings through to further education. These standards would make consistent the provision, processes and systems that should be made available across the country for every child and young person with SEND, acting as a common point of reference for every partner within the SEND and alternative provision system. We intend for these to apply across education, health and care. We propose to bring forward legislation to place the standards on a statutory footing within the early years and education sectors and revise the SEND code of practice to reflect these standards.

The consultation will run for 13 weeks and will close on 1 July 2022.

3. Universities

On 25 April 2022, the House of Commons agreed a carry-over motion for the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill. The bill was last considered in the House of Commons in September 2021 and was awaiting a date for report stage.

The carry-over motion will mean that the bill will continue its progress in the next parliamentary session. The bill seeks to bring forward measures to strengthen and extend existing legislation on freedom of speech and academic freedom in higher education. As introduced in the Commons in May 2021, it would implement the legislative proposals in the Department for Education policy paper Higher Education: Free Speech and Academic Freedom, published in February 2021. The House of Commons Library published an analysis of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill 2021 in advance of second reading.

The progress of the bill was discussed during the carry-over motion in April 2022. The Shadow Education Minister, Matt Western, argued that the Government’s “lack of urgency, suggests it is really not that important after all […] the legislation would certainly have no effect on cancel culture, according to lawyers, media commentators and the sector itself”. In response, Minister for Higher and Further Education Michelle Donelan argued that “the Government remain committed to delivering on our manifesto pledge by strengthening freedom of speech in higher education”, calling the Opposition’s policy “perplexing”.

4. Skills

In February 2022, the Government’s white paper Levelling Up the United Kingdom included a commitment to ‘level-up’ skills, stating:

By 2030, the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK. In England, this will lead to 200,000 more people successfully completing high-quality skills training annually, driven by 80,000 more people completing courses in the lowest skilled areas.

The 2021–22 parliamentary session saw the passage of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which received royal assent on 28 April 2022. The legislation underpins reforms set out in the Skills for Jobs white paper.

The legislation includes provisions enabling the lifelong loan entitlement (LLE), announced by the Prime Minister in September 2020, to be introduced. The LLE would be the equivalent of funding for four years of post-18 education. The Government has said that it aims to introduce the LLE from 2025 and “transform the funding system so it is just as easy to get a loan for a higher technical course as it is for a full-length university degree”. The intention is that the LLE would replace the two existing systems of publicly funded higher education loans. It would be available for both modular and full-time study at higher technical and degree levels (levels 4 to 6), regardless of whether they are provided in colleges or universities.

During the passage of the bill, the Government had committed to introducing amendments concerning the detail of the LLE. However, during report stage in the House of Lords the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education, Baroness Barran, stated that the Government would be consulting on the introduction of further legislation on the LLE:

Following further policy development and engagement with stakeholders, including debate in committee in this House, the Government have decided not to lay these before we consult. As noble Lords have noted, these are complex issues and it is essential that our final policy approach is informed by the needs of students, providers and all key stakeholders […]

We intend to seek views on our ambition, objectives and coverage. This will include aspects such as but not limited to: the level of modularity—this will cover the minimum number of credits a course will need to bear to be eligible for funding; maintenance support; how to support quality provision and flexible learning; how to incentivise and enable effective credit transfer; and whether restrictions on previous study should be amended to facilitate retraining and stimulate high-quality provision. We intend to bring further primary legislation following consultation. This will allow us to meet the rollout timetable of the LLE from 2025, as originally planned.

A consultation on the LLE was launched on 24 February 2022 and closes on 6 May 2022.

5. Read more

Cover image from gov.uk