We are very grateful to FSA Trustees and members who have given their time to assess the possible impact of the proposed Schools Bill on the Forest School sector. Their initial advice may be found below and this will be added to as needed.
I am sure that many of you are aware that there is a Schools Bill wending its way through the House of Lords. It has a long way to go before it becomes law but it currently contains clauses that could impact on the delivery of Forest School (FS) in England. At the moment there are over 170 amendments to be considered, including one specifically aimed at disapplying FS from some of the requirements. And a fairly damming submission from the cross-party ‘Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’, who consider that the powers being proposed to be delegated to the Secretary of State for Education is excessive. There is still time to remind our local MPs of the special nature of FS and why they should think about how all this will impact on us before the Bill reaches the Commons. Each of us knows the buttons that will be most effective to press for our local MPs, so get the fingers tapping the keys, folks.
The basic premise of the Bill is that all schools shall be academies, each working within an academic trust and following guidelines set by the Secretary of State to achieve ‘a stronger and fairer school system that works for every child’ and to ‘ensure that more children receive a suitable and safe education’, as they are defined by said Secretary of State. It proposes to increase the powers of ministers to legislate on all aspects of school life in all settings. This includes the ‘spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils’. The definitions of ‘school’ have been widened to include Home Education, Early Years, Further Education, Higher Education, and all other independent educational institutions, referring to them variously as schools or ‘educational institutions’.
Depending on what amendments are accepted, the biggest impact for FS settings will be in relation to home-educated children, because it looks likely that parents will have to be registered as ‘schools’, be inspected, have to produce evidence that they are covering the curriculum, and will need our support. FS leaders working exclusively with schools may see some additional pressure about linking our practice to the curriculum, so hold fast to the Six Principles. Early Years settings already work within OfSted requirements and will be able to work within that sector which supports (and defends) play-based practice. Any settings providing what is defined in the bill as full-time education for children aged 5-16 will be required to register, but if the proposed delegated powers are accepted that can be changed by a future Secretary of State without returning to Parliament.
There may well be more paperwork, probably for all groups initially, and settings may need to keep records of ‘educational progress’ as defined by the Secretary of State. If it follows a pattern similar to that when the National Curriculum was introduced it will settle down over the first year to a more practical level. We will watch and review our advice when necessary.
If you value the work that we do please consider joining us and contributing to our charitable purpose to advance quality Forest School education for all.