Week in perspective

28th July 2000 at 01:00
MINISTERS' attempts to repeal Section 28 foundered this week, after peers voted overwhelmingly to keep the law which bans the promotion of homosexuality in schools.

The Government was defeated in the House of Lords by 270 votes to 228 by a coalition of family-values campaigners led by Baroness Young, the former Conservative leader of the Lords.

Speaking in the debate, Lady Young said: "If we abolish Section 28 we send out a clear signal to local authorities to promote homosexuality. I will fight for the rights of children as long as I have breath in my body."

While no one has ever been prosecuted under the section, teachers have complained that it restricts their ability to deal with homophobic bullying in schools.

Last week's compromise over sex education guidance for schools appeared to have paved the way for a government victory, but the size of the reverse means that the Government will have to admit defeat or risk losing the whole of the local government Bill.

Ministers have decided not to appeal against their High Court defeat on performance-related pay. It means that the issue will now go to consultation and most teachers will not receive threshold payments before March.

The rows over-shadowed further announcements from the Government's comprehensive spending review. On Monday, the Government confirmed that it would set up a pound;250 million fund to help public-sector workers - including teachers - to buy their own homes in property hot-spots such as London.

Workers in "vital" private-sector jobs will also be eligible for the help which will include interest-free loans of up to pound;50,000 and low-cost home owership schemes.

On Tuesday, it was the turn of school sport to get a spending boost. The Government is set to double the numbers of sports co-ordinators to 1,000 by 2004 and to bring back competitive school leagues in sports such as cricket, football and athletics.

While the Government aimed at

widening opportunities for children to play sport, academics were warning the Commons education select committee that access to university is narrowing.

David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: "No one wants to see universities turned into playgrounds for children of the rich. But with a university education becoming more expensive, with a decreasing proportion of expenditure being met by the Government, that could happen unless urgent action is taken now."

He called for the Government to train admissions tutors and to commission research into admissions policy and practice at universities.

Schools could soon be facing similar problems if Sean Williams, a former adviser to John Major, has his way. In a pamphlet for the Centre for Policy Studies, published this week, he called for the state school system to be privatised - with schools responsible for their own admissions policies.

Mr Williams went a stage further than the Conservatives' recent proposals for "free schools" by saying that headteachers should have the power to hire and fire teachers at will.

Meanwhile, the Local Government Association has responded to the growing private market in education by teaming up with Capita plc to offer management consultancy services to councils across England and Wales.

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