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Market forces to dictate agenda

New legislation will pave the way for private managers in schools and other moves towards deregulating the state education system, reports Nic Barnard.

LAWS to make it easier for private firms to run schools and for heads to change teachers' pay and conditions will form part of flagship legislation for the new government.

A Bill outlined in the Queen's Speech on June 20 will be a centrepiece of the new government's first year. In spite of scepticism and opposition from the teaching profession, it will give legal force not only to the Green Paper Schools: Building on Success but also to reforms of school governing bodies proposed in consultations late last year.

It will create a fast-track means of bringing in private managers to successful schools, possibly by creating powers for the Education Secretary to disband governing bodies so a new one nominated by contractors can be installed.

It will give heads of successful schools the power to disregard national pay scales and the national curriculum - something only education action zone schools can do but none has taken the option.

And it will tie in with a major shake-up of local government funding, expected in legislation from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, as schools' funding for central services such as special needs and school transport is split from council budgets.

The Bill will also have to sweep up a whole raft of minor issues and legal anomalies. But its main focus will be on effectively deregulating aspects of the state education system.

The Government already has many o the powers it needs to enact the Green Paper. Others can be quietly enacted by statute. But ministers are likely to set them out in a Bill to demonstrate the seriousness of their intent to reshape the education system.

The new minister will arrive to find a pile of responses to the Green Paper from unions, the General Teaching Council and other bodies. They make uncomfortable reading but will be no deterrent.

They raise concerns about a two-tier education system caused byprivatisation, the increase of specialist schools and expansion of the church sector.

And they say that the proposals will do nothing to raise morale or improve teacher recruitment. The GTC calls for a transformation of the role of the teacher to take a role in policy-making and guarantees of continuing professional development.

With the Church of England publishing a report by Lord Dearing next week on creating more church schools, the Bill is likely to make that easier by reducing by 5 per cent the requirement for voluntary-aided schools to meet 15 per cent of building and maintenance costs.

Other elements are likely to include a reform of city academies - even before the first one opens its doors - to allow them to take children from age four to 18. Changes to the Office for Standards in Education's inspection framework will require legislation, as will targets for key stage 3 tests.

And schools will be given the ability to put GCSE pupils on work placements or further education college courses as part of a huge expansion of vocational education.

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