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Labour gags its unelected advisers

A strict code of silence has been imposed by the Government on the hand-picked but unelected men and women who are helping Labour re-shape the education service.

Senior figures on task forces set up by the party have been told they will be held responsible for leaks from their meetings.

More than 100 people serve on the task forces and those contacted by The TES either refused to speak about their work or would only do so anonymously. Some reported the calls to the DFEE immediately.

Others claimed they had been told their task force would be disbanded if discussions were leaked to The TES.

Labour has set up at least 10 education task forces or advisory groups whose jobs range from raising standards in schools to devising a "new deal" for young people.

The chosen ones include headteachers, dons, industrialists, union leaders and - providing a little glamour - film-maker Lord Putt-nam and novelist Ken Follett.

The new style of governance has the backing of Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at Oxford University, who described them as a breath of fresh air. "Labour is attempting to break from the tribal tradition and is inviting the views of a broad variety of people. But the rules under which the task forces operate must be spelled out."

While most task force members welcomed the chance to be involved, many are concerned about accountability and the secretive nature of their work.

One member said: "I am more than nervous about this. Things that are going to affect many schools are being discussed confidentially. You feel a bit nobbled at times."

Another said: "I had some anxieties (that) it was a political game and I was a pawn in it. Certainly it is an interesting development that the Government is willing to do this. I hope it has been for real."

The Tory government came under fire for setting up hundreds of quangos packed with its supporters.

Local government is also worried at the increasing influence of unelected people. One official said: "It is a shrewd tactic to bring in people who not necessarily share your views and ensure you control them from the inside. "

The DFEE denied that it had "gagged" task force members.

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