Rebel MP team to battle Kelly reforms

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
A team of rebel Labour backbenchers has been formed to take on the Government over controversial plans to create a new self-governing trust schools.

The six MPs intend to negotiate with Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, and senior ministers over how the recent white paper can be redrafted to allay fears that trust schools will lead to chaos in school admissions.

They will represent the views of a wider group of 95 backbenchers who say that the proposals would leave the most disadvantaged pupils worse off.

But some MPs are already suspicious that the team, which includes Angela Eagle, sister of junior education minister Maria, two members of the education select committee, David Chaytor and Helen Jones, and other signatories to the rebels' alternative white paper, Joan Ruddock, Nick Raynsford and Alan Whitehead, will be too easily won over.

Mr Chaytor denied there was a formal arrangement to negotiate on behalf of all backbenchers, but admitted MPs were continuing to lobby ministers. He added: "I'm concerned that increasing autonomy for schools is balanced with a framework to ensure they all operate on a level playing field. It is important that local authorities maintain a supervisory role."

Ms Kelly has said she will continue to talk to backbenchers about the white paper. Alan Milburn, former health minister, has already said that "give and take" is necessary to find a way through, while David Blunkett, another former cabinet minister and Blair ally, said he thought there was "a real possibility of a way forward".

Confed, which represents senior council education officers, also attacked the paper. Dr Robert Garnett, its president, told The TES much of it did not "seem to make a lot of sense". "Why create trust schools with diminished parental representation and then set up parents' councils to redress the balance?" he said.

"Why multiply the number of admissions authorities each with their own criteria, no statutory controls, and then appoint advisers to help guide people through the confusion? Why take away local authorities' powers to plan places, then appoint a national commissioner to do the job instead? And all this, according to the Government, is taking place to improve Sats results."

Dr Garnett called for a mandatory admissions code that would also apply to academies so that "religious fundamentalists or business people in search of knighthoods" would not be able to freeze out less able pupils.

New research undermines the notion that more parental choice - central to the white paper - leads to higher standards. A London School of Economics study, funded by the Department for Education and Skills, of primaries in the South-east found that pupils with a wider local choice of schools performed no better than those with less choice. John Bangs, National Union of Teachers head of education, said: "The evidence against the Government's choice agenda is stacking up."

In an article for The TES this week, the Fabian society calls for the Government to take the sting out of the rebels' objections by setting targets to close the gap in attainment between pupils from different backgrounds.

Platform 21

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