Fuzzy logic from Tony on trusts

25th November 2005 at 00:00
Today we report (page 1) that many of our blue-chip companies are declining to support Tony Blair's plan to establish trusts to run schools instead of local education authorities. We have been here before.

Following her third-term election victory in 1987, Margaret Thatcher set out plans for radical school reform. Some, including giving schools control over their budgets and forcing them to compete for pupils through a new funding system, have endured and now enjoy wide support. More contentious plans to let schools opt out of council control and establish privately-run city technology colleges proved less successful.

Grant-maintained schools failed to win cross-party support and were abolished by Mr Blair after 1997. The equally contentious CTC programme withered on the vine after the business sector declined to provide necessary backing. Business leaders made it clear they preferred to work with schools in the community and worried about damaging their growing relationship through school-business partnerships.

Mr Blair seemed to have learned from this. In his first term as Prime Minister, he promised school reforms that would focus on "standards, not structures", a useful soundbite with a clear message that voters - including teachers and parents - could readily understand. Meanwhile, the business community's involvement with schools grew, notably through the rapid development of specialist secondaries. It is also to the Government's credit that new investment in information technology and modern classrooms has been able to draw upon business know-how. Hence learning is becoming a more personalised, richer experience for pupils.

There is ample evidence that partnerships between business and communities can lead to improved education standards and motivate more pupils to succeed in adult life. Crucially, however, such partnerships will only succeed where there is genuine willingness to work together. Mr Blair has an uphill task to convince teachers, parents and the wider community that trust schools will not be just another divisive policy - opting-out Mk II.

The trouble with his new reform agenda is that the message is no longer clear, the logic distinctly fuzzy.

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