There are many tensions running through the system, to which this week's education Bill has contributed, and may do little to resolve.
The Government wants to set up "independent" state schools - known as trust schools. But would they see themselves as part of a coherent local service?
The Government also wants to make school admissions fairer - a proposal that has been widely welcomed. But will a strengthened admissions code be effectively implemented? The preoccupation with five A* to C-grade GCSEs to the exclusion of other forms and levels of achievement still leaves around half of school-leavers with very little to celebrate after 11 years of compulsory education.
The good news is that there are encouraging reports of the enthusiasm with which many schools are approaching the children agenda. But not all schools are equally committed to improving the lives of all the children in their community. There is evidence that many go to some lengths to avoid admitting all local children.
Some schools are clear that their contribution lies in improving academic results, and are not that enthusiastic about a broader role. Indeed a few are quite hostile to the idea. Even these, however, will find themselves being inspected on the contribution they make to the five Every Child Matters outcomes for their pupils (see box).
They should be aware of what Ofsted is looking for. Inspectors will be asking a school just how effective, efficient and inclusive it is. Schools will be marked on 15 issues related specifically to five Every Child Matters aims.
The Government's approach to getting schools engaged appears to consist largely of support and encouragement, and the dissemination of good practice - with the prospect of a critical inspection report to concentrate the minds of the otherwise reluctant. But will that be enough?
Ofsted will need to demonstrate that inspectors' judgements with relation to each of the aims are equally significant. I once wrote that some schools would not be unduly perturbed by an inspection report describing them as "successful but exclusive", but few will relish the tag "inadequate"
attached to any of their functions. And the first school to go into special measures, or even to be issued with a notice to improve, because of inadequate work towards the five outcomes, will doubtless be guaranteed a prominent position in the TES's pages.
So there is a general expectation that schools will support learners'
progress towards the five goals. But there is also the related issue of "extended" schools, as many of the improved services the Government wants will have to be provided outside normal hours.
Ministers have set some ambitious and demanding targets. Their rationale is simple and revealed in the prospectus for extended schools: "The Every Child Matters programme is a shared national programme of system-wide reform designed to ensure that children's services work better together and with parents and carers to help give children more opportunities and better support. Bringing services together makes it easier for universal services such as schools to work with the specialist or targeted service that some children need so that problems are spotted early and handled effectively."
By 2010, all schools will be required to provide a core offer of extended services, with half of all primary schools and a third of all secondaries doing so by 2008.
Progress so far is ahead of target, and some local authorities expect to have all schools delivering by 2008 and some are tying their plans in with the development of children's centres.
The core offer consists of childcare (not necessarily on site) from 8am to 6pm all year round; a variety of study support and extra-curricular activities; parenting support and family learning opportunities; easy referral to a range of specialist support services; and wider community use of ICT, sports and arts facilities.
There is a major issue, not yet widely addressed, of how appropriate it is for responsibility for extended provision to rest so narrowly in the hands of the governors and managers of schools - there is surely a need to take a broader view. This is happening in some well-advanced extended schools, and a new guide for governors Extended Schools - a guide for governors from the National Governors' Association, describes some options.
Martin Rogers is co-ordinator of The Children's Services Network (formerly The Education Network). Its proposal for a new admissions framework is available on www.ten.info
The aims for every child...
* Be healthy
* Stay safe
* Enjoy and achieve
* Make a positive contribution
* Achieve economic well-being