White paper is smothered in fudge

28th October 2005 at 01:00
The battle within government over the education white paper has ended with a fudge and that is good news for schools. The radicals who wanted more privatisation and a bigger role for the market have had to compromise with those who support intervention in the name of equality. The result will allow schools to take or leave most of the menu on offer.

The Prime Minister wants to persuade us that this is a "pivotal moment" in his education reforms: schools will have more freedom, parents more power and a new breed of trust school, very like the grant-maintained schools that Labour abolished eight years ago, will be set up. But what are the freedoms that schools do not already enjoy? Control over their admissions of the kind grant-maintained schools possessed, Mr Blair suggests. Yet schools will still be subject to an admissions code and the admissions adjudicator. While proclaiming that schools are being set free from local education authorities, ministers are giving councils a new duty to make sure that admissions are fair. Councils will also be championing parents and commissioning services and they will continue to be charged with closing failing schools.

The rhetoric about parent power is as misleading as that about local authorities. Most parents do not want the power to set up their own schools and ministers have admitted that they expect only a tiny proportion to do so. Many more want to be governors but the proposed trust schools will have fewer parents on their governing bodies.

It is a pity that a government with many achievements to its credit in education - rising standards, record spending, substantial increases in teachers' salaries - has resorted to the easy political expedient of inventing yet another type of school. But the attractions of the new status are limited. Unlike grant-maintained schools, trust schools will not be entitled to big boosts to their budgets. As Abby Taubin, a parent and teacher, who has been campaigning for a new school in south London, put it:

"This is so complicated that I don't think it will do anything."

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