Tags: Admissions | Funding | Governors | Headteacher | Leadership Vision | Legal framework | School Governance | School Governor | School Leadership & Management | Trust Schools

The government promoted its 2005 education White Paper as a historic turning point. At the time, School Governor Update reported on the proposals and possible implications.

Greater freedoms for schools and more power for parents are at the heart of the reforms and Trust schools are the main vehicle for promoting the changes. In his foreword to the White Paper, the Prime Minister writes: ‘We must put parents in the driving seat for change in all-ability schools that retain the comprehensive principle of non-selection, but operate very differently from the traditional comprehensive.’

He adds: ‘Our aim is the creation of a system of independent non-fee paying state schools. It will be for schools to decide whether they wish to acquire a Trust – similar to those that support academies – or become a self governing foundation school. But it will be easy for them to do so, without unnecessary bureaucratic interference. And they will do so in a system of fair admissions, fair funding and clear accountability.’

Trust schools will have much the same powers as foundation schools – which the government now seems to want to call self governing schools – employing their own staff, owning their own assets and making their own admissions arrangements. They will continue to be funded by local authorities but will be supported by external charitable trusts, which will be able to appoint a majority of governors. Universities, companies, groups of parents, faith groups and voluntary sector organisations are suggested as bodies which might establish trusts. To acquire a trust, a governing body would have to consult with parents to ensure support for the idea and for the particular trust planned before publishing formal proposals. Trusts could support an individual school or a group of schools.

Schools will also be encouraged to keep their governing bodies as small as possible and Trust schools could have as few as 11 governors.

Parental representation will be a casualty of this new structure, so Trust schools will be obliged to set up parent councils to compensate for the reduction in the number of elected parent governors. These will have an ‘advisory and consultative role’ and the government expects them to work ‘in an informal and flexible way’.

Governing bodies of all schools will have a new legal duty to take account of the views of parents. The White Paper proposes to ‘leave it to individual schools to decide how to do this most effectively’, but it will encourage every school to set up a parent council even though these will only be compulsory in Trust schools. The White Paper makes no attempt to suggest a relationship between parent councils and parent governors, which will frustrate those who have been campaigning for parent councils to be used as a way for elected parent governors to consult and communicate with parents.

The government says that parent councils ‘engage people who may not have the confidence or desire to be a parent governor’ and believes that they offer ‘an effective way for schools to consult parents on specific issues likely to be of particular concern, such as uniform, school meals or changes to the curriculum’.

As part of the expectation that they will do more to engage and to listen to parents, schools will have to provide more regular information on children’s progress through three reports each year.

Parents are also being offered the right to go to Ofsted with any concerns that they feel their child’s school is unwilling to hear or take action over. As long as their concerns are accepted as legitimate and they have exhausted all local complaints procedures, parents will be able to turn to Ofsted, which will have a new statutory power to investigate and, where justified, call a meeting with parents to discuss the complaints. Ofsted could then take action in response, including calling an immediate inspection.

Parents will also be able to ask for new schools to be set up to reflect local need and demand. Local authorities will have to consider their requests as part of a new legal duty to promote choice, diversity and fair access to schools. One means of promoting choice is seen to be providing free transport for children from low income families to travel to a range of schools. Local authorities will be obliged to offer such pupils free transport to any of their three nearest secondary schools as long as they are between two and six miles from the child’s home.

Choice is also to be extended by encouraging the use of banding. Places would be offered to children across a range of ability bands, which would open up opportunities for children living outside the traditional catchment area of a popular school. Before its publication, it was widely trailed that the White Paper would make it compulsory for oversubscribed schools to operate a banding system, but the final version leaves it to schools to consider the most appropriate option, while promising to make it easier for those that wish to introduce banding.

A network of advisers will be set up to help parents understand and make the most of the choices that are open to them.

The government’s continuing desire to encourage popular schools to expand is also promoted in the White Paper through the proposal to abolish School Organisation Committees. Schools wanting to expand will no longer have to seek the agreement of other schools in the area through the SOC – a situation which the government says ‘adds to bureaucracy and gives a bias in favour of the status quo’.The SOC’s powers will pass to the local authority, but guidance will make it clear that there should be ‘no arbitrary obstacles preventing good school expansion or federation’. The White Paper also includes a commitment to implement the recommendations made by the Practitioners’ Group on School Behaviour and Discipline, led by Sir Alan Steer. These include introducing a ‘clear and unambiguous legal right’ for teachers to discipline pupils, which would re-affirm the right to restrain pupils using reasonable force.

A short section of the White Paper summarises the role of governing bodies in the reforms and includes positive statements, such as: ‘A huge debt is owed to school governors for their dedication and commitment’ and ‘We want and need governing bodies capable of providing strong leadership; equipped and supported to contribute fully to effective decision-making and able to provide strategic direction’.

However there are no proposals for any new support or training for governors and the education secretary, Ruth Kelly, kept her focus firmly on the role of teachers and parents in her comments at the launch of the proposals. ‘The White Paper will give headteachers the freedoms they need to take standards of attainment to an even higher level,’ she said, ‘and will create a new system where improvements are embedded within school and where the drivers for success lie more than ever before in the hands of teachers and parents.’

The White Paper Higher Standards, Better Schools For All: More choice for parents and pupils is available, price £21.00, from TSO bookshops or can be ordered on 0870 600 5522 or by email from [email protected]
It can also be downloaded free click here

Proposed new duties

Governors must: – have regard to the views of parents in their conduct of the school Schools must: – give parents information on the progress of their child three times a year – apply nutritional standards to all food and drink supplied on school premises Local authorities must: – respond to representations from parents who are not satisfied with the provision of schools in their area

– provide free transport for disadvantaged children to attend any of three suitable secondary schools between two and six miles from their home

This article first appeared in School Governor Update – Nov 2005

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