Tags: Curriculum Manager | Teaching & Learning Coordinator | Teaching and Learning

As the dust started to settle on the new White Paper ‘Higher standards, better schools for all’, discontentment with the content began to mount.

One of the more controversial elements is the formation of ‘Trust schools’, which will be given greater independence and freedoms to run on their own. Backed by business charities, faith groups, universities and parent and community groups, they will have the power to be their own admissions authority, be the legal employer of their staff, and have the right to alter the national curriculum to suit their pupils’ needs.

Schools run by charities ‘spell disaster’ The unions were particularly concerned about the proposals to allow charities and other such organisations to run schools. ‘The creation of quasi-local authorities but without the democratic accountability must be avoided at all costs,’ said NASUWT General Secretary Chris Keates. ‘This proposal will hit the rocks of opposition if the charitable organisations being considered include some of the private company sponsors which have stirred up such controversy in the Academy Programme.’ NUT Secretary Steve Sinnott voiced similar concerns: ‘The vision of so-called academy style freedoms with a new and confused role for local authorities is hardly a recipe for stability and confidence among both teachers and parents.’ He also pointed out that letting employers set up a school would go against the whole purpose of education, as they would effectively be shaping the students to meet their needs to plug skills shortages.

More power to parents The White Paper further enshrines the Government’s desire to increase parent power. As well as being able to demand new schools for their area, they will also be able to set up their own school. What clout these demands will have in practice remains to be seen. Schools will also be expected to give parents more regular information on their child’s progress.

Steve Sinnott slated the White Paper for ‘pandering to the pushy middle classes at the expense of children in less advantaged circumstances’. He believes that giving parents the power to set up schools regardless of existing capacity in that area will undermine provision for all. He also questioned where these parents were going to come from, given most schools struggle to get parents to take on the school governor role. SHA General Secretary Dr John Dunford reiterated this concern, adding that what would be more helpful would be reform that attempted to engage parents more in their child’s education.

Personalised learning needs cash to happen One element to be greeted favourably was the plans to push forward the personalised learning agenda, given a whole chapter to itself in the White Paper. But for this to succeed will depend on substantial ringfenced funding. The White Paper does acknowledge that ‘a change on this scale will require significant investment’. Schools will eagerly await news of when and how this will be made a reality. The White Paper promised that new types of specialist staff to support personalised learning will be trained and assessed to bolster the school’s leadership approach to making the initiative a reality. One funding detail to be included is the pledge to invest £335 million by 2007–08 to provide schools with the resources they need to start delivering small group tuition to improve literacy and numeracy standards, as well as increase gifted and talented work and provide other personalised support. This money will be targeted in particular at LEAs with the greatest number of underachieving and ‘deprived’ pupils. Further funding details were due before the end of 2005, but still had not been announced by the time CMU went to press.

Tight timescale ahead The White Paper is due to be put forward to Parliament as a Bill early in 2006, which means a tight timetable for consultation on its content, and for subsequent revisions. A number of Labour backbenchers have already voiced their concerns about the plans for self-governing Trusts. But so far, there are no plans to delay the February publication date of the final Education Bill.

Access the White Paper via: www.dfes.gov.uk/publications.

This article first appeared in Curriculum Management Update – Dec 2005

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