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GM pupils 'will not be punished'

Former grant-maintained schools could retain their financial advantage over local authority schools for two to three years, Stephen Byers, education minister said this week.

He told a conference at the Industrial Society in London that local authority schools would level up, rather than ex-GM schools levelling down. "We can't punish children in these schools for going GM," he said.

The School Standards and Framework Bill, published this week, will end GM status and all schools will become one of three categories: foundation, community and voluntary (church schools). The Bill will change the structure of governing bodies, increasing the numbers of parents. Parents will also be represented on local authority education committees.

Ministers said they had responded to consultation concerns. They were taking a tough line against local authorities which fail to support their schools and had new procedures to get rid of incompetent teachers. The Education and Employment Secretary, David Blunkett, said: "If a local authority fails to support its schools, this Bill will give the Government power to send in an improvement team to direct its staff or to contract out its functions to others until the LEA has shown it can carry out its legal duties.

"If we find schools failing their pupils, LEAs will be able to issue warning notices that demonstrate key weaknesses and affect standards. Where a school is clearly struggling, they will be able to appoint extra governors or withdraw financial delegation to help turn it round."

If schools fail they will be closed and re-opened under the Fresh Start initiative, with a new head, some new staff and a new name.

The Bill sets up education action zones, run by an action forum of local authorities and businesses. The zones will cover two or three secondaries and their feeder primaries. They will be able to attract heads and teachers with higher salaries and will have first call on Government funds. The forum could even act as a common governing body for zone schools.

Local authorities will have to publish performance targets in education development plans. The Bill will introduce home-school contracts defining parents' duties and responsibilities and those of the school. It will also set out the procedure for parental ballots in areas where there is a demand to end grammar schools.

Mr Byers said the 140-clause Bill would unravel most of the 1944 Education Act. He said it would show local authorities that central government will intervene if they do not do their job.

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