Education Bill... spin and fudge

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
Much of the commentary on this week's education Bill seemed to relate more to its impact on Tony Blair's Prime Ministership than to the futures of millions of children. Probably because that was safer ground. The fact is, nobody really knows what the effect of the Bill is likely to be.

As always, the political spin seems to be what really matters. The Bill is totemic: symbolic of Mr Blair's determination to signal to the choosers, that minority of self-interested switch-voters who can make or break governments, that he is prepared to tear his party apart to satisfy their aspirations.

But what is he offering in reality? What will actually happen to schools and parental choice when the Bill is eventually passed is unclear. First, because it remains to be seen how far the concessions he has been forced to promise are enacted or modified in whatever emerges from the Commons' and Lords' merry-go-round.

Second, because it is unclear how the inherent conflicts in the Bill will be resolved. The mood music of diversity and choice - lifted straight from the Tory Party market competition songbook - sits awkwardly alongside collective measures designed to encourage schools to collaborate and assist their weaker counterparts.

The best way schools can collaborate is by making their intakes fairer. We are now promised no selection by interview or ability. But no one knows whether an admissions code can really be made to stick. If it can, then there seems little point in a trust school being its own admissions authority if it is no longer permitted to select its clientele.

So is Mr Blair's insistence on retaining trust schools' control of admissions another symbolic gesture? Or an indication that assurances on fair admissions are a fudge?

So far, there is no clamour from schools for trust status. But what carrots may later be dangled? We heard this week about a modest pound;30 million incentive for school collaboration - less than the price of a single academy. How far would school funding need to be tilted in favour of trust status to persuade more schools to take it up?

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