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Revolt fails to kil off Ashdown plan

Liberal Democrats in Liverpool may press ahead with a pilot scheme to allow a community-based trust to run a school, despite the policy's defeat at last week's party conference in Brighton.

Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown and education spokesman Don Foster support the project to increase local participation in schools and the Government might also favour the experiment.

Liberal Democrat leaders believe conference opposed neighbourhood school trusts because of lack of evidence that they would work.

After the defeat, Mr Ashdown admitted: "Perhaps we didn't leave enough time for consultation and explanation." But he added that Liberal Democrats controlling Liverpool council wanted to investigate the scheme "and report back to us."

Under the plan, parent or community-based groups or parish councils would be encouraged to establish trusts to run schools under contract to their local authority.

Mike Storey, leader of Liverpool council, told The TES this week that, if the council decided to go ahead, it would have to seek the Government's permission. He said a Government source had indicated that "a way would be found to make it possible".

Speakers at the party conference opposed further structural upheaval to schools. Peter Downes, a former president of the Secondary Heads Association, dismissed the plan as "barmy".

Richard Cornwell, Liberal Democrat education spokesman on the Local Government Association, said: "It could be a useful element in deciding which way education should be managed. We can't pretend it's being done in the best possible way at the moment."

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