EDUCATION Secretary Charles Clarke walked into controversy in his first speech this week by questioning the Government's plans for a five-tier hierarchy of schools.
In a clear break from the policy of his predecessor - which has been publicly backed by the Prime Minister - he questioned the proposed structure, described by his predecessor Estelle Morris as a "ladder" and Tony Blair as an "escalator".
He also criticised the increase in types of schools. He said: "With beacon schools, city academies, city technology colleges and so on, I think there's a lack of coherence in what we are saying about schools and how they should move forward." Officials have confirmed that at least one category, beacon school, is being phased out. In future, the best secondaries will be called "advanced" schools.
"One of the things we have to try to do is to ensure we have a holistic system, not one of ladders and escalators, but based on what the school can do. The bidding regime (for various categories of schools) did not help in that way."
The Government was trying to find a way of generating "drive" to improve the secondary system, and Mr Clarke wanted every school to play a part in that process.
He did, however, approve of specialist schools. He said he wanted to accelerate the specialist schools programme. Already, the Government is committed to 2,000 specialist secondaries by 2006.
He also wanted to look at the difficulties some schools have raising the pound;50,000 they need to gain specialist status.
Speaking in Oxford to 200 heads, at the third of 13 ministerial roadshows promoting secondary reforms, he promised new proposals on discipline which would help teachers to deal with "malcontents", disruptive pupils who often took up so much of their time.
He also acknowledged that the "seemingly endless flow of documentation" flooding into schools was damaging effective teaching and school management.
He said: "Bureaucracy and the sometimes seemingly endless flow of documentation from government, from government agencies... and local education authorities can be a serious barrier to high-quality teaching and professionalism."
He said he had discussed red tape with the Prime Minister this week, who wanted it tackled.
Government's proposals on workload reduction, revealed last week by Ms Morris, include plans to set up a new unit of headteachers to monitor progress on cutting bureaucracy. The unit will also work with agencies to cut paperwork. Mr Clarke is to announce more details before Christmas.
His speech went down well with the heads who were impressed with his answers to a range of questions on testing, the Tomlinson report and 14-19 education.
His comments were made a day before MPs were due to scrutinise targets and league tables in schools and hospitals. The public administration select committee was due to hear evidence from the National Association of Head Teachers saying the 2004 key stage 2 targets were too demanding in some local education authorities.
Although Mr Clarke stands by the primary targets (but will not stake his job on them), he did tell The TES that he would review the number of goals for schools: "The charge that we have too many targets as a Government is a well-made charge and I'm therefore going to look right across the range as to whether we have too many.
"I certainly think it is difficult to really make changes in a system that is based around more than a handful of targets. On the other hand, when you look at the specific targets we have got, I couldn't put my hand on my heart and say we were wrong to go for any of them."