More splits emerge over new framework

24th October 1997 at 01:00
A TES survey reveals little support for Labour's proposed three-way reform of school types, reports Clare Dean.

Deep divisions between the Government, education authorities and the national local government body are emerging over ministers' plans to create three types of schools.

An analysis by The TES of local authority responses to the education White Paper Excellence in Schools reveals little support for foundation status - replacing grant-maintained schools.

Even Sheffield, whose MP is Education Secretary David Blunkett, does not support the foundation category, arguing there should be only community (LEA) or aided schools.

The London borough of Newham and St Helen's in the North-west have voiced serious concerns to the Department for Education and Employment about the proposed framework, despite two of their councillors being leading members of the Local Government Association, which supports the plan.

Graham Lane, education chair of Newham, is also education chair of the LGA, while Marlene Newman from St Helen's is an LGA deputy.

Ministers insist the White Paper is a genuine attempt at consultation, but the Government appears immovable on the one thing that has prompted almost universal opposition - foundation schools. These are viewed as a continuation of the divisive GM sector.

By sticking steadfastly to the concept of foundation schools, first unveiled two years ago at a Labour party conference, the Government is laying itself open to the charge that dogged its Conservative predecessor: that it consulted only after it had made up its mind.

Labour members of the LGA sided with Conservatives to back the proposal - despite what many of their own authorities were individually telling the Government.

The analysis by The TES of responses from 17 authorities that Labour LGA education councillors represent suggests only two - Leicestershire and Ealing - support the framework. But even they have reservations.

The LGA insists that there should be no privileges for any category over the others and that the advantages over funding, admissions and planning that GM schools enjoyed should stop.

The view from Newham is stronger. It has told the Government that schools should only be allowed foundation status if they could raise more than Pounds 100,000 and could prove that they would continue to raise at least Pounds 50,000 a year from private or voluntary funds.

Other alarming responses for Labour come from the London borough of Lewisham, and Shropshire. Leisha Fullick, chief executive of Lewisham, is on the Government's continuing education advisory group and Carol Adams, chief education officer in Shropshire, is on its standards task force.

In her authority's response to the White Paper, Ms Adams has urged ministers to limit change to the GM sector for the time being: "It is inevitable that if governing bodies are required to consider these issues of school category and the consequent issues of staff, employment, property, religious requirements and funding, they will not give the necessary attention to literacy, numeracy, target-setting and planning."

She has told them not to underestimate the continuing impact of recent legislation. "It encouraged schools to succeed through competition, particularly by attracting students, preferably motivated ones with supportive parents who would enhance the school's status, reputation and academic results."

Lewisham wants all grant-maintained schools to return to their original status.

Most authorities broadly welcome the White Paper and its crusade to raise standards and have taken pains to say so in their responses. They have been particularly relieved to see the renewal of the role of the local authority.

But it is clear that while ministers insist that it is standards, not structures, that matter, there are some real problems.

Sunderland, which has no GM schools, is "profoundly concerned" about hierarchies which might be created through foundation status.

Redcar and Cleveland has warned that the delicate partnership of co-operation that exists between its schools - none has opted out - could be upset.

Many councils are now calling for a new community voluntary status for voluntary-controlled schools. Ministers expect these to become foundation schools .

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