On 25 October 2005, the Department
for Education and Skills published the Schools White Paper "Higher Standards, Better
Schools for All - More Choice for Parents and Pupils". The White Paper is
Articles prior to publication
of the Bill
Information after publication of the Bill
'Alternative White Paper'
Like many other Labour
back-benchers, I have serious reservations about the policies contained in the White
Paper, some of which are explained in more detail in the article below. I am a
signatory to the Alternative White Paper
on Education and prior to this I responded to the Governments consultation on the
Admissions Code, calling for it to be mandatory and speaking out against selection and
faith schools - click here for my response.
The Government have now
decided to delay publication of the new Code and so I am hoping that this may mean the
concerns of back-benchers, like myself, are being listened to.
I wrote the
following article for Socialist Campaign Group News February 2006
EDUCATION REFORM DIVERSITY OR ANARCHY?
Lynne Jones MP, 24 February 2006
In a well publicised speech Communities Minister, David
Miliband, recently expressed the Governments commitment to further devolution of
power to local communities. But David Miliband did not list a single power to be
given to elected councillors. His favour is for volunteers who
apparently deserve more control but shouldnt be troubled by accountability or
election. Such arrangements, in fact, serve to keep real power at the centre.
When it comes to education, far from increasing community
accountability of publicly-funded services, the proposals in the Governments White
paper remove the current democratically accountable structure of local education
authorities (LEAs) as providers and replace this with a model of local authorities as
commissioners of so called independent trust schools. Who does this
devolve power to?
The "external partners" or trusts that are to run the
new independent state schools can appoint a majority to the board of governors, allowing
them to own the buildings, appoint the headteacher and senior management team, control
admissions and decide the school's ethos. In rural areas the choice
agenda is irrelevant. Its in urban areas where competition between schools is
most active. Here parents already face a confusing array of admissions criteria that
benefit those with the most time and ability to decipher them and the money to move near
to perceived good schools. If we allow the handover of more of our schools to
unelected private bodies, the resulting plethora of free-floating institutions will lead
to justifiable confusion amongst parents about where accountability lies.
Even the Audit Commission warn that the White Paper does not
promote the checks and balances necessary to secure equity of access and treatment of
parents and children. Inevitably, one parents ability to exercise choice
potentially denies anothers says the Commission. Quite!
The all party Joint Human Rights Select Committee is also
concerned that trust schools could create an education system that offers children and
parents no direct protection under human rights law. The Committee suggests that the Human
Rights Act might not apply to the proposed trust schools meaning that, for example the
right of access to education may not be ensured. Children with special educational
needs may be denied a place at the most suitable school and trust schools' freedom over
their curricula could conflict with the right not to be indoctrinated.
One justification the Government gives for the creation of trust
schools is that the appointed governors would bring in external expertise and
energy. But what evidence do the Government have that their quasi-market
structure will raise standards? The Education and Skills Select Committee Report
into the Education White Paper concluded that No causal link has been demonstrated
between external partners and the success of a school, or between the independence of a
school from local authority control and its success.
And what of the concessions weve heard so much
Though the Government is now saying that, with the permission of
the Secretary of State (so much for Milibands rhetoric!), LEAs will be allowed to
enter into a competition with other would-be providers of new schools, no movement has
been indicated on the basic proposal to create trust schools. The concession on the
Admissions Code requiring admissions authorities to act in accordance
with it, rather than just to have regard to it may not be all its
cracked up to be. This will depend on whats actually in the Code of Practice
and how it is enforced. If the Code still allows selection by aptitude
and discrimination by faith and does nothing to ensure a mixed ability intake
then the current social divisions between schools will be perpetuated. Recent
research from the Sutton Trust into the social make-up of top comprehensive schools found
that those that had control into their own admissions, as would still be the case for
trust schools, were unrepresentative of their local communities. Shouldnt the
task fof achieving a fair intake for all schools be given to the LEA, an independent body
accountable to local communities, not to an unelected quango?
Then there is the question of the grammar schools. The
retention of the 11+ in Birmingham and other LEAs means we have no truly comprehensive
schools. Apparently all political parties now agree that the 11+ belongs to a past
era, so why is our bold Government not acting to remove this anomaly?
Another bold idea for securing a better social mix in our
schools, suggested by Tim Brighouse, London Schools Commissioner (and former head of
Birmingham LEA), would be to reform the funding system by introducing a simple entitlement
per capita for pupils entering secondary schools based on their prior attainment on entry.
A higher rate would go to those with the lowest attainment. Schools would then
have incentives to assist those who need most help as well as those who are going to
deliver high league table results.
At the time of writing we still
dont know exactly what will be in the Bill that follows the White Paper. What
is clear is that, unless the policy that hands over control of our primary and secondary
schools to business, religious and external educational groups is dropped, it will be very
difficult for many MPs to support the proposals.
I wrote the
following article for Socialist Campaign Group News Nov/Dec 2005
Lynne Jones MP,
It is ironic that the Governments White Paper is called
Higher Standards, Better Schools for All given it is based on the inoperable
and essentially inequitable (without expensive surplus provision) dogma of choice of
provider as a driver for standards in secondary education. Parents and
students dont really want the stress of choosing between institutions, the real
choices they want are for a wide range of well taught courses in a variety of subjects
both academic and vocational with excellent facilities and good standards of behaviour at
a school within easy travelling distance.
It shouldnt be forgotten that the wholly misleading idea
of choice of provider in essential public services is a Tory concept, epitomised by their
proposals in their 1992 Education White Paper: "Choice & Diversity: A New
Framework for Schools" which extended the market place initiatives
begun by Margaret Thatcher in 1988. Tony Blair says his choice
proposals will help children from low income families whilst at the same time
conspicuously failing to answer the criticisms the Tories first failed to answer: who ends
up using the less desirable services when the most desired schools fill up? It is
simply not practicable to expand popular schools and close down or rebuild so-called
failing schools. Size does matter.
To a great extent, through local management which has been a
great success, schools are already selfgoverning but if you ask head teachers, they
will tell you how much they still value the accountable support they receive from their
Local Education Authority. Quangoisation of the powers of LEAs was not
in the Labour Party manifesto. The manifesto only dared a hint at this proposal: Local
authorities have a vital role in championing the parent interest and providing support
services. The section which makes reference to "independent"
specialist schools merely talks about "a strong ethos" but says nothing
about the Governments plans to neuter the role of LEAs. Ministers cannot fall
back on the manifesto but will have to respond to concerns about the policy detail.
Evidence-based policy should lead ministers to look at the
success of comprehensive systems such as that in Finland which did exceptionally well in PISA
(the OECD programme for student assessment). Finland has a system of comprehensive,
non-selective basic education and the teaching profession is highly respected and teachers
given trust and a lot of autonomy. They have no testing or ranking lists and a
co-operative way of working in contrast to the competitive market doctrine of the
Governments White Paper.
The Government wants every school to become a specialist school
because they argue that these schools have achieved better results. However, no
evidence has been provided to demonstrate it is the specialism, as opposed to the
additional funding and ability to select, that drives the success of these schools.
The extra money they get, a grant of £100,000 and an extra £126 per pupil for four
years, creates a two-tier education system, made up of specialist schools with extra
funding and non-specialist schools that cannot benefit from any extra money. Like
selection on other grounds, encouraging children to specialise at such a young age is in
The Government suggests that power should be given to parents,
giving the example of the right to ask for new schools to tackle entrenched
inequalities. Yet, perversely, in the same sentence we learn that
parents rights to demand a new school will also be granted to meet a lack of
faith provision. As religious schools discriminate against everyone not of
that faith, isnt this is at odds with equality of opportunity for all? Though
all parents put their own childrens interests at the forefront of their
consideration, this necessarily has to be put in the context of the choices on
offer. In the wake of the 9/11 atrocity in New York and the 7/7 bombings in London
it is surely in all our interests that all groups in our society feel included and are
given every possible opportunity to integrate. We need to have all our children
educated in schools that believe concern for others is not a religious virtue, but a human
virtue; and where people of all faiths and none are equally respected
We should also closely examine the Governments claims
about the success of academies. The Education Select Committee reported earlier this
year that "the rapid expansion of the Academy policy comes at the expense of rigorous
evaluation. Obviously academies have more money and it would be very
surprising if they didnt have higher improvement rates.
The White Paper makes much of the importance of fair
admissions but the Government has not yet analysed responses to the consultation on
the national code on admissions, neither has it proposed any change from the present
situation in which schools are only required to have regard to it.
Furthermore, no action has been taken to deal with the continuation (in many areas) of the
11+. The London Oratory school recently won high court backing for its practice of
interviewing pupils in clear breach of the codes guidance, so the Prime Minister
will know that the Adjudicator, which oversees the voluntary code, does not have the teeth
to enforce it.
Schools have not asked for these changes and have made it clear
that they value the support of LEAs. A large number of Labour MPs are telling the PM
they want a comprehensive education policy based on real equality of opportunity, fairness
and evidence, not recycled Tory dogma. Isnt it time he listened?
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