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Super-Bill aimed to streamline laws

The Government is planning a new super-Bill of more than 1,000 clauses for the next parliamentary session in an effort to streamline the bewildering variety of education Acts.

School administrators, teachers and lawyers will have to ditch such old favourites as the 1988 Education Reform Act and learn the language of a new, single "consolidation" Bill.

Most will be glad to do so: they are grappling with the tentacles of 28 different education Acts.

Consolidation is, in theory, a technical matter and should not alter the substance of the law. It will stand separately from Education Secretary Gillian Shephard's promised measure allowing grant-maintained schools to borrow money - due to be spelled out in the Queen's Speech in November.

Local authority representatives and educational organisations have been told to stand by for a massive consultation exercise to check that the Consolidation Bill goes no further than the legislation it replaces. It will not deal with further or higher education.

Government managers insist on all-party agreement before introducing the Bill to the House. This is to ensure that it occupies a minimum of parliamentary time. Estimated dates for its completion vary between April and November of next year.

Peter Liell, a lawyer specialising in education, and joint editor of Butterworth's Law of Education - a tome of vast and ever-increasing girth - said: "It's likely that a Bill to consolidate the existing legislation relating to schools will be introduced in Parliament in the session beginning in November. The Bill would repeal and replace all the current education acts dealing with schools."

John Fowler, assistant secretary at the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, welcomed the prospect of the super-Bill, saying: "It's right and proper that all those involved in education have a full understanding of the law: as there have been 33 separate Acts since 1944, this has been made very difficult."

The Catholic Church is understood to be concerned lest the Bill erode the provision of free transport for pupils to Catholic schools - already under threat in some parts of the country.

Civil servants have been working on a possible consolidation Bill since Kenneth Baker's 1988 Education Reform Act. Its arrival was notably delayed by the 1993 Education Act, which set up the Funding Agency for Schools.

There are some difficulties and apparent inconsistencies for the legal draughtsmen to overcome. Local authorities have, for example, a residual duty under the 1944 Education Act to look after the education of their residents - a responsibility that sits uneasily with the autonomy of the parallel grant-maintained system.

The Government will need separate legislation to allow GM schools to borrow money or to introduce a voucher scheme for nurseries.

This could present a possible timetabling obstacle to a consolidation Bill, unless the legislation is run concurrently.

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