Are we really talking about a revolution?

Jon Slater & Michael Shaw

The white paper sets out to revolutionise the school system by giving power to parents and headteachers while radically reducing the role of the local authority.

As the Prime Minister said: "All state schools should gain the benefits of becoming self-governing, independent schools free to parents". But that was not Tony Blair but John Major in 1995.

Six years after Mr Major, Labour ministers promised they would open the education market to new providers and free schools from central and local control.

Labour's first Education Act abolished grant-maintained schools, but in 2001 a new act offered schools the power to innovate, earned autonomy for heads and forced local authorities to consider outside providers to run new schools. But schools eschewed the Blair dream.

The latest proposals assume parental power and choice will drive up standards. Parents will be able to call in Ofsted and will vote with their feet against underperforming schools which will be quickly closed if they cannot improve. In their place will be new parent-backed trust schools free from local authority control.

The free-for-all predicted by opponents of choice will be mitigated by "fair admissions" and the promotion of banding.

The acknowledged model is the Swedish system where parents choose from a range of state-funded providers .

But it looks increasingly clear that the white paper is a messy compromise between Blairite radicals and those in favour of more incremental change.

Martin Johnson, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' head of policy, said: "As always under the current government, the white paper shows signs of the conflict between the neo-liberal Downing Street faction and the more mainstream 'what works' group."

Meanwhile, the PM's unwillingness to impose "banding" or another "fair"

admissions system leaves popular schools free to continue bending the rules to cherry-pick middle-class pupils.

A revolution for schools? Don't believe the hype.

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Jon Slater & Michael Shaw

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