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Councils to be standard bearers

Local authorities have been rehabilitated. Spurned by the previous government, Labour has given them a new lease of life with a central role in its drive to raise standards.

But they have been warned that the price to pay is accountability. They face inspection by the Office for Standards in Education and the Audit Commission. The least effective authorities will almost certainly find themselves in the spotlight when their new inspection regime begins in January.

LEAs will have to demonstrate to the Government, their own schools, parents and the electorate that they are doing a good job of improving their schools. There will be no favours for local government - still largely Labour-controlled.

Standards not structures is the favoured phrase of this education team - but it is clear that structures will be vitally important if the new system is to succeed.

The White Paper is short on the details of how the grant-maintained sector will be abolished to make way for a new structure of aided, community or foundation schools. This will be subject to consultation.

It is expected that county schools - almost two-thirds of England's primaries and secondaries - will become community schools. The LEA will continue to own premises and employ staff, but parents will get more seats on governing bodies.

Both aided and foundation schools will own their own premises and employ staff - aided schools will have to contribute at least 15 per cent towards their capital spending.

Ministers expect voluntary-aided schools to become aided while GM schools will take the foundation route. This is far from clear-cut though. A number of church GM schools have already indicated they may opt for foundation status and there are also moves to introduce a fourth category of schools - foundation (church).

Where there is dispute about the proposed new status, parents will be balloted. If they still disagree, the Secretary of State will decide.

On selection, the Government said there was no going back to the 11-plus but added LEAs would not be able to get rid of the 163 grammar schools in England. Parents will decide the fate of those schools.

Ministers will, however, move to end partial selection - up to 15 per cent - by academic ability. This system introduced by the previous government has caused havoc in Bromley and Hertfordshire where pupils have been left without places. An adjudicator will end the practice where it currently exists.

Clare Dean

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