5 things we learned from Keegan’s education committee hearing

Education secretary gives updates on RAAC, transgender guidance, ABS consultation and FE recruitment

Education secretary gives updates on RAAC, transgender guidance, ABS consultation and FE recruitment

The government won’t confirm its deadline to rid every school and college of crumbly RAAC until the new year, Gillian Keegan has said.

The education secretary said she would not give a “definitive date” until mitigations to make every education setting safe were complete, adding that her department “expects there to be more” cases identified.

Keegan made the statement during a hearing with MPs on the House of Commons education committee today, in which she was also quizzed on the Department for Education’s guidance on gender recognition, proposals for the new Advanced British Standard and teacher recruitment in further education.

Here are five takeaways from the session:

RAAC: ‘We expect there’s more’

The DfE confirmed 231 schools and colleges have potentially dangerous crumbling RAAC concrete, in an update published this morning

The total added three more FE colleges to the list: Abingdon and Witney College, Barnet and Southgate College and The Oldham College. Ten colleges have now partially closed campuses due to RAAC.

Keegan told MPs the DfE has received all questionnaires back from every education setting but expects they will identify more schools and colleges with RAAC as they further investigate.

“They’ve all had the first survey and 231 currently have confirmed RAAC. Now we do expect there will be some more because as we go back for follow up survey work, we will identify a few more,” Keegan told MPs.

She added that she won’t give a deadline to rid every school and college of crumbly RAAC until the new year.

“We will be able to give you a definitive date when all schools are safe because that was my very first objective.”

Pressed by MPs, Keegan said this would be “very shortly”, but not before Christmas, calling the expected announcement a “new year present”.

Gender recognition guidance due ‘before Christmas’

The education secretary also said the long-awaited guidance on transgender learners in schools and colleges will “hopefully” be published before the Christmas period.

The “gender questioning” guidance was previously due to be released earlier this summer.

“We had to change that because it is quite a complex area,” Keegan explained.

She added that the guidance will be non-statutory as the department has been “going backwards and forwards and trying to understand how these various layers of law will fit together”.

She indicated that the guidance would cover how colleges can support learners who want to socially transition, as a ban on students socially transitioning at school/college would require changing equalities law.

“I know there’s been other people who’ve called for not having any social transitioning in schools, full stop,” she said. “That would require a change in equalities law and that will be a matter for the equalities minister.”

ABS consultation expected ‘shortly’

Since prime minister Rishi Sunak announced his intention to replace A-levels and T Levels with the Advanced British Standard, MPs and sector leaders have awaited a consultation setting out the details of the new proposed qualification.

Keegan told MPs today that the document, which contains plans for 10 years’ worth of reform, will be released “shortly”. 

The three things it will detail will be having “more breadth in 16 to 18” and extending the timetable of 16- to 18-year-olds in school and college.

The third detail will describe the “breakdown” of the so-called artificial barrier between technical and academic education. 

She added that the document will also expand on the work from the DfE’s maths advisory group.

Upon questions of scepticism of the replacement of the relatively new T Levels, Keegan insisted T Levels will be used as the building blocks of the ABS.

DfE ‘doesn’t underestimate’ the T Level placements ‘task’

Keegan was also pressed on the difficulty of getting businesses to host T Level work placements.

Labour MP Ian Mearns referenced DfE’s own 2022 employer polls showing that not enough businesses are interested in offering industry placements.

Keegan disagreed and added that the department is working with businesses “more and more” but admitted the T Level nine-week work placement has been a “big challenge”.

“The skill shortage in a way kind of helps us and actually, even some of the changes to immigration yesterday, because it basically says to businesses, we have to all work together to develop the pipeline of talent,” she said.

She added: “When there are particular skill shortages, companies do tend to get a bit more strategic and look to try and build the pipeline. T Levels and workplaces are an excellent way of doing that as are apprenticeships because they broaden access to lots and lots of different people. 

“We don’t underestimate the task. I don’t. But I think it’s the right challenge.”

Keegan ‘aware’ of FE recruitment crisis 

During a grilling on the recruitment and retention crisis in school education, conservative MP Robin Walker argued that the recruitment in the post-16 space is “significantly greater”. 

Keegan said she is aware of the challenges, but she doesn’t have a large role in setting salaries for FE staff.

“We don’t have as much role in the setting of the salaries and the scales, but we have provided an additional £470 million across the financial year 2023/24 and 2025/26, to support colleges and other providers with recruitment and retention challenges,” she said.

“We’ve also got the stem and technical shortage subjects will receive those working in disadvantaged schools and colleges in particular, will receive up to £6,000 after tax annually on top of their pay.”

She also skirted questions from committee member Miriam Cates on the recruitment of maths teachers, given the government wants to extend maths education until 18.

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  1. Blarney

    They set the funding budgets and rates, but don’t have a large role in setting FE staff salaries.

    Interviewer: Minister, do you recognise that funding levels have a material effect on the salaries on offer in the sector and therefore its capacity to recruit and retain staff?

    Minister: Let me be perfectly clear, we ensure funding levels are generous to extend the ladder of opportunity and are committed to driving up quality. We accept that the feet of that ladder do not need to be grounded in reality as we’re only using it as a metaphor or sometimes a simile. But that doesn’t make it any less real and we have broadened access to lots and lots of different people.

    Interviewer: Do you think achievement rates of 60% are good enough?

    Minister: No, we think they should be at least double that and that’s why this government is investing more funding to drive up maths skills.

    Interviewer: I have no further questions.

    Minister: I’m glad you asked, the programmes we have initiated have been transformative and while its been challenging we have ensured that even skills shortages have not been disadvantaged.