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'Choice advisers' may help poor get better deal

The Government is considering the introduction of "choice advisers" to help poorer families find their way around and get the best out of an increasingly diverse state-school system.

The plan being looked at by Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, came as she outlined plans to press ahead with "personalised education" for pupils and the extension of parent power. The TES understands Ms Kelly's aides have looked at the use of "choice advisers" in the National Health Service who help less well-informed patients by talking them through the options open to them, such as the best treatment available.

Ms Kelly told a conference fringe meeting: "How do you get kids in the most despondent communities to really aspire? Because if there is a school down the road doing better than the one in their neighbourhood then maybe they should think about applying to that."

Ministers have been impressed by research which suggests that parental involvement in their child's education has a more powerful effect on their results than teaching. Jacqui Smith, schools minister, told The TES that the white paper would contain initiatives to force parents to take more responsibility for children's learning. And ministers intend to make it easier for parental complaints to trigger inspections.

The Government has already introduced fast-track prosecution for parents of truants and is encouraging heads to use home-school contracts, although these are not yet legally binding.

It also wants to go "beyond Tomlinson" and extend the former chief inspector's proposals for greater diversity for 14-19 education to key stage 3. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "ATL welcomes the vision of an education system which promotes greater equality. However, if we are to achieve a fair admissions system we need to ensure every local school is a good school. At present, schools choose pupils, not the other way round. The most disadvantaged pupils are left in struggling schools."

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