Ofsted raps first school over Baker Clause

A school has been rapped by Ofsted for flouting the Baker Clause, as the inspectorate begins to police the controversial rule.

Leicestershire-based King Edward VII Science and Sport College was rated ‘inadequate’ in a report published on Wednesday following an inspection in January.

Inspectors found, among other leadership and safeguarding issues, that the school was “not currently meeting its statutory responsibility to ensure that providers of technical qualifications and apprenticeships visit the school to inform pupils about these options”.

The watchdog said leaders “do not make sure that pupils receive independent careers advice”, which means students “do not feel well prepared for their next steps”.

Ofsted added that leaders “must” provide pupils with “information about what technical education and apprenticeship opportunities are available in accordance with the school’s legal obligations under the ‘Baker’ clause”.

FE Week understands this to be the first case of a school being pulled up by the inspectorate for failing the Baker Clause.

Ofsted confirmed it had not found any references to the rule in the reports it was able to search from the last academic year.

The controversial rule was introduced in January 2018 and stipulates schools must ensure a range of FE providers have access to pupils from year 8 to year 13 to provide information on technical education and apprenticeships.

It became law after the government adopted an amendment to the 2017 Technical and Further Education Act, proposed by former education secretary Lord Baker, who claimed schools were “resisting” those who tried to promote more vocational courses to pupils.

The government has become increasingly concerned at non-compliance with the rule but has yet to take any meaningful action.

While it has sent out numerous letter to schools and multi-academy trusts reminding them of the duty, no action was taken in the first year of its existence, even though a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research found that around two-thirds had broken the law.

It led to the clause being labelled a “law without teeth” by Charles Parker, the then executive director of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, which helps to run University Technical Colleges.

Former Department for Education minister Lord Agnew sent out the most recent batch of warning letters in February 2020 – but MPs, such as education select committee chair Robert Halfon, believe the government is still “not doing enough”.

The lack of action has led to calls for Ofsted to assess compliance with the rule as part of a wider judgment on a schools’ careers guidance.

King Edward VII Science and Sport College is an academy that teaches around 750 students aged 14 to 18.

Aside from poor careers guidance, Ofsted found that governance was “not effective” and while staff do a “good job” to support pupils, some “do not feel supported by senior leaders” and “worry that leaders may respond negatively” if they raise concerns. 

Student safety was another concern, with inspectors reporting that leaders “did not respond appropriately or follow statutory guidance in relation to a serious safeguarding incident”.

Since Ofsted’s visit in January, the school has joined the Apollo Partnership Trust and appointed a new governing body.

Jennifer Byrne was the school’s principal at the time of the inspection, but a press release on its website states that vice principal Emma Booth has since become acting principal.

Julia Patrick, chief executive of the Apollo Partnership Trust, said that although King Edward VII College was not part of the academy chain at the time of the inspection, they have taken Ofsted’s report “very seriously and are actively reviewing it with a view to early implementation of any recommended changes”.

She would not comment on Byrne’s position at the school.

Ofsted has paused the publication of inspection reports during the Covid-19 pandemic, but has said it will release them sooner if requested, as was the case with King Edward’s.