Today Education Minister Dr Alex Allinson confirmed the gov was dropping the Education Bill and would instead seek to reform the island’s education system through secondary legislation.
Gef has written this handy explainer for the who, what, where and why of the Bill’s rise and fall.
What Was It?
The Education Bill was designed to replace the current Education Act 2001 which came into force in 2004 and was revised in 2009. It was the first major shakeup of education on the island in almost 20 years.
The Bill was meant to address areas including regulation of home education and school catchment areas, inappropriate use of social media as well as school and pre-school inspections and tribunals.
Who Opposed it?
In short, a lot of people. A public consultation found support for its core principles, but beyond that, the Bill was not supported by home educators, teachers, head teachers or their unions.
A Tynwald committee report in 2019 even said that DESC had ‘failed to gain the confidence of the staff working in the department’s own schools’.
The report added: ‘We conclude that in considering any future legislative proposals which may be brought forward by the department, the branches (of Tynwald) should ascertain for themselves the extent to which the views of key stakeholders inside and outside the teaching profession have been taken into account by the department.’
It was also said that ‘at the same time the department had antagonised home educators’.
It said: ’The department engaged positively with home educators in early 2018 but relations then appear to have broken down. The proposals in the department’s second public consultation, in 2019, have caused shock, dismay and outrage among home educators.’
Law firm Quinn Legal was instructed by two homeschoolers, Tristam Llewellyn-Jones and Voirrey Baugh to consider the extent of the Bill compatibility with the Human Rights Act 2001. The advocates said: ‘We have concluded that, as drafted, the key proposals set out do not comply with Article 8(1), Article 9(1) or Article 14 of the ECHR.’
A New Hand on the Wheel
What was clear is that DESC had issues between its leadership and its staff, with a near total breakdown in the relationship between the teachers and former minister Graham Cregeen (now Justice and Home Affairs Minister) and CEO Prof Ronald Barr. But with a new Minister and new CEO, this seems to have helped clear the air between the DESC and teachers.
As recently as last week, retired Ramsey Grammar School head teacher Annette Baker tweeted Dr Al: ‘The current Education Bill will forever be associated with the pain of conflict and the failures of a previous administration. Education has changed since the start of the pandemic. We need a new bill to inspire young people with hope and optimism for the future, born from the new experiences, challenges and creative energy of the present. We need a new vision to take us forward.
What Has Dr Al Said?
In a recognition that the Bill had severe, likely terminal, defects, Dr Al said: ‘I believe we can and must do better. It is my intention to withdraw the Education Bill and give teachers, officers and our community the chance to regroup and reflect on the journey we have made together over the last year, and seize the opportunities it has presented together.
’We have listened to concerns of head teachers, parents and other stakeholders and we are working hard to build better relationships that will spell a new era with a common purpose. Schools play a pivotal role at the heart of modern society, which has been further highlighted during the pandemic, and it is imperative that we are united in working to ensure our young people reach their full potential.
‘As we move forwards it is essential that our educational policies and procedures deliver a system we are all proud of, placing people, relationships and culture at the heart of everything that we do.’
Mrs Baker, who was in the Keys gallery for today’s announcement, told Gef: ‘I am delighted that Dr Allinson and DESC CEO Graham Kinrade have had the courage to change direction on the Bill. Their commitment to create a first class education service will be recognised by all in the teaching profession, who I am sure will work together with DESC and the government to formulate the vision for education on this island that our young people deserve.’
Max Kelly, president of NAHT’s Isle of Man branch, who was also present in Keys today, added: ‘Today’s announcement by the Minister for Education comes off the back of strong campaigning by NAHT members in the Isle of Man and we welcome the brave leadership that has, at last, been shown.
‘Today’s decision now allows the Department, the profession and NAHT to work through the post-Beaman’s landscape and consider issues such as Governance, Inspection, and indeed a shared vision for education in the Isle of Man, so that together a new Bill which captures all of these important developments can be considered in the future.’
What Happens Now?
In his speech, Dr Al said the way DEC is working with the teaching profession to find the best way forward and that work on the Bill is not wasted. He also said that we can expect reviews on which exams pupils sit, how the quality of education is assessed and the governance of schools will be started.
The review of exams is particularly important as many teachers, including Mrs Baker, have been vocal in their outright opposition to Manx students sitting the Cambridge IGCSE exams which the DESC chose to implement a few years ago. As seen this year, the move to Cambridge has not been an easy one and while students in England and Wales will not sit exams this year, instead relying on teacher assessments for their grades, it is still not clear what will happen to Manx students with Cambridge saying it intends to hold exams this summer.