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Four-tier 'monster' fear

Frances Rafferty on what MPs think about the proposed new committee to oversee school places

The new bodies that are to take responsibility for planning school places and closures have been described as a cumbersome, bureaucratic monsters.

During debate on the School Standards and Framework Bill, which envisages that every local authority will have a School Organisation Committee, all sides agreed on the need for reform.

But Don Foster, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said: "We must ask ourselves whether we are in danger of replacing one monster with another and whether the Government's proposals are unnecessarily cumbersome and bureaucratic."

He said the Government was replacing a two-tier system with one of three, or even four tiers.

The groups on the committee will include local authority elected members, nominees from Church of England and Roman Catholic dioceses, representatives of the Further Education Funding Council - who will have voting rights only on proposals which affect pupils aged 16 plus - and school governors. The committee must have access to someone with special needs expertise.

The Department for Education and Employment guidance said: "Each group will have a single vote and will decide within the group how it is to be cast. All votes must be unanimous in order for the committee to reach a decision on whether to approve a statutory proposal or the School Organisation Plan."

Each group will have between one and seven members.

The committee will meet at least once a year to agree the plan, and will be convened to consider individual proposals for change when they arise.

Where the committee cannot agree, the matter will be passed on to an adjudicator appointed by the Secretary of State. The adjudicator will have six weeks, from receipt of all papers, to make a decision which can only be challenged by judicial review.

Adjudicators, who will be paid on a daily rate, will also have to deal with school admissions appeals.

"It looks like these adjudicators are going to be very busy bunnies," said one local education authority officer.

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