Bill would extend selection
Measures designed to tackle discipline problems have been drafted in response to the spate of cases in which teachers have refused to teach pupils returned to schools after winning appeals against exclusion.
In the current climate of concern over the perceived failure of parents to accept responsibility for their children's behaviour, Labour is expected to support the discipline measures.
The Bill makes clear the agreements are not legal contracts and parents cannot sue schools that fail to deliver commitments they may make in terms of the kind of education they promise to provide.
Other clauses will allow schools to detain pupils as a punishment after school without their parents' consent and increase the maximum period of exclusion to 45 days in any year.
Ministers are hoping the Bill will provide maximum opportunity to embarrass Labour over Harriet Harman's choice of a grant-maintained grammar school for her son. The legislation allows grant-maintained schools to select up to half their intake on the basis of academic ability and schools wanting to become grammars will be able to appeal directly to the Education Secretary where local authorities are being obstructive.
It also extends the powers of the Funding Agency for Schools to propose new grant-maintained schools in areas where there are no opted-out schools.
However, Gillian Shephard is to take reserve powers to prevent schools introducing greater selection in cases where the result would leave less academic pupils without a school place. The powers would allow the Education Secretary to intervene in the plans of schools across a local authority or even a region.
The legislation also provides for the merger of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and the National Council for Vocational Qualifications. The Qualifications and National Curriculum Authority will have a maximum of 13 members on its executive, compared with the 15-member boards of the two existing bodies.
The Government has included non-controversial clauses on careers education and the setting of performance targets for schools and the vetting of supply teacher agencies, taking the Bill to 72 clauses. The length of the Bill puts pressure on Parliamentary time in the final session before the general election.
Right-wing MPs, including James Pawsey, chair of the Conservative back-bench education committee, have already given notice that they may table amendments to reintroduce corporal punishment into schools.
Labour will welcome the opportunity to exploit the differences emerging over discipline between the Prime Minister and Mrs Shephard. It was saying this week the reserve powers in the Bill would allow Mrs Shephard to block the Prime Minister's ambition to have a grammar school in every town.
MAIN POINTS OF THE BILL * Schools to get more power to select by ability * Schools to be required to consider annually whether they should introduce greater selection * Grant-maintained schools to get more power to expand and to introduce nurseries; * Schools to get power to refuse admission to pupils whose parents will not sign home-school agreements * The Office for Standards in Education to get powers to inspect local education authorities * The merger of SCAA and NCVQ * Introduction of baseline assessment for five-year-olds * The assisted places scheme extended to prep schools