Things can only get more fragmented

Warwick Mansell

Some secondaries will have unprecedented autonomy, others will be run by outsiders; some will be specialist, others not. Warwick Mansell reports on Labour's latest blueprint for the future.

MINISTERS this week announced "the most ambitious programme ever" for secondary education, unveiling a bewildering array of new measures to transform standards.

The Government's blueprint for its second term promises unprecedented freedoms for successful schools backed by new intervention powers to tackle failure.

The White Paper, Schools Achieving Success, promises diversity without creating a two-tier system.

Every failing school will have to consider help from private firms, voluntary organisations or other schools. Employment regulations will be changed to let schools share teachers, heads will be allowed to manage more than one school and governing bodies freed to establish "families" of partner schools.

Successful secondaries will be able to offer more money for recruitment and retention. The criteria for "success" is still to be defined but ministers say 10 per cent will qualify.

Councils proposing to build a new school will also have to invite bids from other authorities, firms, faith or voluntary groups. The Government will decide which bid is accepted.

For persistently failing schools, ministers will pilot intensive forms of intervention, such as drastically lower class sizes - no figures have yet been supplied on this proposal.

As predicted, they have backtracked on aspects of privatisation. Companies will not employ school staff directly. But it will be easier for all schools to bring in outside support.

Ministers appear to have cooled too on plans for the expansion of faith schools. Moves to establish them should "take into account the interests of all sections of the community".

The paper envisages 1,500 specialist schools, 40 per cent of secondaries by 2005 - a year earlier than previously predicted and a new category of "working towards" specialist status. Schools will be allowed to specialise in more than one subject, and new categories of "advanced beacon" and "training" schools have been created. There is a new specialist category: maths and computing.

All schools will be directed to teach core subjects of maths, science, information technology and English beyond 14. But there will also be individual learning programmes for students. Colleges will be encouraged to work with pupils from the age of 14. This year 50,000 teenagers opted out of the national curriculum.

League tables will introduced for key stage three and a value-added measure will be piloted next year.

Appeals panels will have to take into account the effects on other pupils and teachers of reinstating pupils who have been excluded from school. Practising and former teachers can make up the majority of panel members and the requirement to report on fixed-term exclusions of less than 15 days has been scrapped.

The paper also proposes ring-fenced money for schools in council budgets, with powers for the Secretary of State to intervene if an education authority is not passing enough cash to schools.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the new category of "working towards" specialist status would create a three-tier system.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the White Paper would fail to deliver higher standards unless the recruitment crisis was tackled.

ENGLISH PROPOSALS

* 1,500 specialist schools, 400 secondary beacon schools and 20 city academies by 2005

* Schools to offer more than one specialism

* No powers for companies to employ teachers or control governing bodies

* Pilot scheme for non-teaching degrees to count towards qualified teacher status

* Failing or weak schools to be helped by companies, voluntary groups or other schools

* Intensive Government help for most challenging schools

* League tables for 14-year-olds

* Individual learning plans for 14- to 16-year-olds, built around a core curriculum

* Schools innovation unit to spread best practice

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Warwick Mansell

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