No reverse gear for the Prime Minister as he sets out 'radical' school reforms. Michael Shaw and Jon Slater report.
Plans published this week to help businesses and churches take control of schools away from local authorities were hailed by the Prime Minister as the start of an irreversible and radical transformation of education in England.
But teachers' unions said the Government's white paper would commercialise education and that schools would ignore it.
The paper Higher Standards, Better Schools for All proposes that all schools which want to should break from local authority control, own their own land and manage staffing and admissions.
They will do this either by becoming foundation schools or by joining a new breed of trust schools. These will be overseen by a charitable trust which could be set up by parents, churches, businesses, universities, other schools or a combination of backers. All new schools will have to be trusts, voluntary aided, foundation or academies, ending the creation of further local authority schools.
The trusts will be able to pick the majority of their schools' governors and, if they are ambitious, can help manage a number of schools and give them a brand identity.
Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, said parents and headteachers would be eager for schools to work with trusts because of the ethos they would create and because they would have greater freedom.
However, the trust schools will have to obey the national codes on admissions and will only be able to deviate from the national curriculum and rules on pay and conditions for their staff if they get permission from the Government.
Trust schools will not receive more money from the Government than others, although their backers will be able to contribute towards funding and equipment.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said that few schools would be interested as there was little incentive. "It will be ignored by headteachers," he said. "There has been a lot of noise about not very much."
Several businesses and faith groups have offered to help establish trusts, including consultancy firm KPMG, the Mercers' Company and Microsoft (see story, opposite page). The United Learning Trust, a Christian educational group, said it hoped to create trusts for the nine academies it is sponsoring.
The National Union of Teachers said it feared the plans would lead to admissions chaos and further commercialisation of education.
John Bangs, head of education for the NUT, said: "Parents and teachers will be subordinate to businesses and we will see broad and balanced curriculums replaced with ones with a business base."
The Prime Minister and Ms Kelly said the paper would give more power to parents, with the Education Secretary claiming that secondary schools were not as "friendly" as they could be to parents.
Yet foundation schools, academies and the planned trust schools have fewer parent governors than standard secondaries.
As a result, trust schools will have to set up new parent councils, which the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations said would have little power.
Other proposals include encouraging popular schools to expand by scrapping school organisation committees and dropping the rule that other local schools must agree.
It also suggests giving disadvantaged families choice advisers, a plan revealed by The TES last month, and guaranteeing free bus transport for poorer pupils to their three nearest schools.
Schools are encouraged to consider banded admissions schemes, where they take on a prescribed mix of abilities, but these are voluntary.
Terry Creissen, head of Colne community school in Colchester, Essex, said he was pleased the Government wanted to give schools even greater autonomy.
His school had to switch from grant-maintained to foundation status after Labour came to power. "Heads want to be able to make decisions that suit their school and their children. This shows the Government have listened,"
The white paper will form the basis of an upcoming education bill. Although some Labour MPs have raised concerns including John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister, a large-scale revolt against the bill is unlikely and the Conservatives have pledged to support it.
Higher Standards, Better Schools for All, is at www.dfes.gov.ukpublications
HIGHER STANDARDS, BETTER SCHOOLS FOR ALL
* Trusts to oversee schools and make them independent of local authorities which will be set up by churches, businesses, parents or community groups.
* A schools commissioner to help parents who demand new schools and match schools which want trusts with potential backers.
* Parent councils at trust schools to give families a say as they will have fewer parent governors.
* Cut-price transport to be guaranteed for disadvantaged pupils so they can travel free to their three nearest secondary schools.
* Choice advisers to help poorer families when they decide which schools their children should attend.
* Fair banding to be encouraged in oversubscribed schools to ensure choice is extended beyond the middle classes.
* Expansion of popular schools where possible, a process to be made easier by scrapping school organisation committees and dropping the requirement that other local schools must approve.
* One-year deadline for failing schools to improve or be closed or replaced with academies.
* Local authorities become "commissioners" rather than providers of education.
* A legal right for teachers to discipline pupils.
* Parenting orders which headteachers can issue to families of misbehaving pupils.
* One-to-one tuition and other support for pupils who need help catching up in literacy and numeracy.
* A "parent's pot" of pound;180 million to help expand popular schools or create new ones where parents want them.
The Prime Minister will answer TES readers' questions on the white paper in next week's issue.
Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or post them on our website at www.tes.co.uk
WHAT THEY SAY ON WHITE PAPER
"(The) white paper on education marks a pivotal moment in the life of this Parliament and this Government. These reforms will create and sustain irreversible change for the better in schools."
Tony Blair, Prime Minister
"If every school becomes independent and autonomous then I worry about what happens to those children - particularly those children with special educational needs."
Sir Mike Tomlinson, former chief inspector
"The Government is fiddling around with the structure of secondary schools in a way that is likely to be ignored by most heads. Schools are far too busy trying to raise standards to be distracted."
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association
"The Government has taken eight years to recognise that grant-maintained schools were a good thing and they are talking about reintroducing them.
That shows they have wasted eight years."
David Cameron, Conservative shadow education minister
"This is an extraordinarily wrong-headed white paper. The Education Secretary's picture of legions of parents knocking on the door to control schools is not based in reality."
Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers.