Standards will dominate Bills

16th May 1997 at 01:00
Labour reforms will target performance and management. Geraldine Hackett reports

Reforms designed to transform standards and management in schools and local education authorities are to be central to the new Government's determination to demonstrate its commitment to the overhaul of the education system.

The content of this autumn's two Education Bills is expected to rival, at least in complexity, Kenneth Baker's 1988 Act that brought in the national curriculum and the creation of grant-maintained schools.

Measures announced in the Queen's Speech on Wednesday will provide powers for David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, to close schools that fail to deliver a minimum standard of education, to send improvement teams into LEAs and to require councils to appoint parents to education committees.

The legislation will end the Conservatives' experiment with schools taken out of the control of LEAs. The 1,100 grant-maintained schools are to be re-integrated as either foundation, community or aided schools.

Ministers intend to move quickly with a short Bill that will end the Assisted Places Scheme and require LEAs to set targets over the next four years for reducing the size of classes for five-, six- and seven-year-olds.

The main Bill, however, will concentrate on reforms to raise standards in schools. The raft of measures will include new powers to close schools without re-employing the staff and powers to require LEAs to meet minimum performance levels.

There are expected to be new powers to speed up action against schools that are identified by the Office for Standards in Education as failing to provide adequate education.

LEAs may get new powers to intervene in schools that do not show rapid improvement, and there may be reserve powers for direct action by ministers.

While the Labour Government is prepared to give back to local councils strategic planning on school finance and admissions, LEAs are to be subject to greater regulation.

They are to be required to set targets for improvement and they will be required to submit local development plans to the Department for Education and Employment.

The Audit Commission and OFSTED will carry out inspection of LEAs.

In addition, the Bill is expected to deal with the funding formulae that set the proportion of a council's education budget that has to be delegated to schools. Ministers want to set limits on the amount that can be spent on administration.

There are plans to improve the status, qualifications and training of teachers. The Bill will provide for the creation of a general teaching council to regulate the profession and accredit a post-graduation diploma. New heads will be required to hold a qualification that is to be developed for the post.

The Bill will bring in reforms at all stages of education. There are to be clauses dealing with early years and the form of baseline assessment for five-year-olds.

The voucher scheme is to be abolished and LEAs required to ensure there are nursery places available for four-year-olds and set targets for three-year-olds.

There are plans to introduce changes in vocational education and training in the later stages of secondary schooling. There is to be more emphasis on work experience for the 14- to 16-year-old age group.

A further raft of measures is required to deal with post-18 education. The Dearing review on higher education is expected to recommend changes in the method of repaying student loans and changes in the youth service.

The proposals are broadly welcomed by the Local Government Association and the teacher unions. Graham Lane, chairman of the association, said the Government's proposals offered LEAs the chance to build a working relationship with ministers.

Labour's education plans

Aims of early Bill

* to end the agreement to fund places for children from less well-off homes in independent schools * LEAs to set targets for reducing the size of infant classes Aims of autumn Bill

* closure of poor schools and replacing with other schools on the same site * sending improvement teams into LEAs * LEAs to set targets for school improvement and submit development plans to the DFEE * integration of GM schools in local planning * limits on LEA spending on administration * parent representatives on education committees * abolition of nursery vouchers * abolition of grant-maintained status * creation of a general teaching council * mandatory qualification for headteachers * reform of student loans scheme * improvements to vocational education * work experience for 14- to 16-year-olds

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