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Liberals fall out over Trusts

Education is set to become a battlefield at this month's Liberal Democrats annual conference, with its flagship policy of Neighbourhood Schools Trusts denounced as "opting out with knobs on", writes Frances Rafferty.

Don Foster, the party's education spokesman, admitted his paper, Moving Ahead, will cause "healthy debate".

His main proposal is to create a single type of school, based on aided schools and run by community-based trusts set up, for example, by parish councils. These trusts would own the schools, employ staff and let out the buildings for adult education, youth services and before-and-after school childcare.

The local education authorities would have contracts with the trusts to provide education for pupils attending the schools. They would also be responsible for admissions and provide services such as payroll, insurance and provision of special education needs.

Opposition to the proposal is led by the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors, which is tabling an amendment, deleting all references to the trusts.

Jackie Ballard, MP for Taunton and the association's president, said: "Here in Somerset we do have good community schools in partnership with the local authority. Just because some LEAs have dragged their heels over community schools, this is no justification to take councils out of the equation. What will happen is that LEAs will be left with the schools in the least popular areas where trusts cannot be organised."

Mr Foster re-iterated his party's pledge to put 1p in the Pounds on income tax, if necessary, to pay for its education policy.


* Neighbourhood Schools Trusts, community based groups, will run schools and groups of schools replacing governing bodies. They will ensure the buildings are used for lifelong learning.

* Local education authorities will procure services for schools and oversee admissions, but will not necessarily own or have operational control of schools.

* A maximum average class size of 25 for primary schools and maximum of 18 per class in secondary schools for foreign languages and practical science and technology.

* Increased minimum entry standards to teaching and a salary structure which rewards for responsibility and professional development. More money for teachers in challenging schools.

* Phasing out the four-year BEd. Main route to teaching via degree followed by PGCE and BA in Education for primary teachers. PGCE students will receive a salary of half the starting pay.

* Foundation key stage for three to five year-olds. Formal schooling will start at six years old.

* A single 14-19 qualification will be established, ending the division between A-levels and Advanced GNVQs.

* Reform of Office for Standards in Education. All inspections will be led an HMI.

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