Purdah causes more issues for education sector

The Report of the STRB doesn’t seem like the only activity at the DfE caught by the start of the purdah period for the Euro Referendum. I had been expecting the second stage of the consultation over the proposed new National Funding Formula to appear last week: it didn’t. ASCL’s interim general secretary commented in a press notice that ‘The timetable for the new funding formula was already very tight and this delay is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.’

The delay will affect everyone, since a three month consultation launched at the end of June will run to the end of September. Even allowing for a month for the DfE to respond to any consultation, even to say, having read the responses we aren’t taking any notice, it would be late October before action could be taken. That doesn’t leave much time for School Forum to respond and set any limits left to them to administer before the 2017 financial year starts in April. Of course an eight week consultation over the summer holidays and every decision controlled by the DfE might still allow a 2017 start, but it only needs some intervention either through the Administrative Court by way of judicial review from a school that loses out under the proposals or in the House of Commons for the timetable to be derailed.

There are also tenders, such as that for the next stage of the National Teaching Service that seem to have fallen foul of purdah. The delay shouldn’t affect the timetable for a 2017 start, but will reduce the planning time available for the successful bidder.

However, the DfE were able to publish the Wood Report and their observations on it before purdah started. The report suggests significant changes to the manner in which local authorities, the police and NHS, plus the departments at Westminster than oversee these bodies and fund them, will handle serious case reviews. This is another area where the lack of any logical framework for local government is causing problems. On the one hand the government want to re-introduce large urban counties under the guise of the Northern Powerhouse while seemingly sanctioning the continuation of small unitary authorities, such as those that govern the former Berkshire.

In respect of children’s services, there doesn’t yet seem to be a coherent framework that binds together local and regional requirements. Nationally, the arrangements between the Home Office (police) DfE (Children’s Services) Department of Health (NHS) and DCLG (funding of local authorities) seems even more tenuous that the local frameworks in the emerging MASH arrangements  – Multi Agency Safeguarding Hubs – being put together in the more forward thinking areas. The lack of common boundaries between services in many localities probably doesn’t help. In education, the overall role of local authorities is sometimes hampered by the presence of large numbers of academies, especially in the secondary sector, where the handling of issues, such as missing episodes by pupils, may reflect the strength of the relationship between individual academies, their MATs whose headquarters may deal with lots of different local authorities and police bodies, and the MASH, if there is one.

Safeguarding children is rightly top of the agenda but whether managing from the DfE remains the correct approach is not considered within the Wood Report. There might be a case, either for a Ministry for Children, and not just a Minister or shifting responsibility to the Ministry of Justice to sit alongside the Tribunal Service.

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