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Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK
Sponsors plan for comprehensives
Secondary school class
There will be greater diversity in types of schools
Businesses, religious and voluntary organisations will be encouraged to become sponsors of secondary schools in England, the Queen's Speech has announced.

Presenting the government's second-term intentions for a "radical overhaul of secondary schools", the speech announced legislation which will "provide new opportunities for school sponsorship".

Queen's Speech plan for comprehensives
Sponsors for schools
Greater diversity
More specialist schools
Advanced specialist schools
Greater autonomy for successful heads
Tackle failing schools
Further interventions in failing authorities
More vocational education

This education bill would "deregulate the school system, remove legislative barriers to change and introduce new ways for private, voluntary and faith organisations to become involved in supporting schools to improve".

The involvement of these community sponsors will be regulated by fixed-term "standards contracts".

This shake-up will mean "modernising the comprehensive principle for today. We will provide more diversity and more choice - driving up standards so that everyone, not just the few, gets the chance to succeed".

This will include a large increase in the number of specialist schools, which will spearhead attempts to raise standards in the secondary sector.

There will also be a higher level of specialist status - which will be known as "advanced specialist" schools.

Specialist schools, which allow for a limited level of selection by aptitude, have been successful at improving exam results.

The Queen's Speech
The Queen's Speech promised a "radical overhaul" for secondary schools

And the new Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, will be hoping that the expansion of specialist schools will see this success replicated across the secondary sector.

The drive towards greater diversity within the state sector, including more religious schools and city academies - will create a system in which "every school has a distinct ethos, mission and character".

These new designations of school will eventually account for more than half of the comprehensive sector.

Vocational skills

The Queen's Speech also signalled greater autonomy for successful head teachers and the call for schools to have the "freedom to innovate".

The top priority for education must be children, not shareholders

Peter Smith, ATL
In the Labour government's first term, primary schools were seen as a success story, with literacy and numeracy strategies contributing to improvements in test results.

Now in the second term, secondary schools will be the focus of attention - with a White Paper expected in the next few weeks, following on the pre-election Building on Success consultation paper.

The plans to improve secondary schools also put forward proposals for a more customised education for children from the age of 14, including a greater availability of vocational training.

Use of private sector

Shadow education secretary, Theresa May, welcomed the government's commitment to give schools greater freedom and its "belated conversion" to use of the private sector to provide the best education.

But the Conservative party would be watching closely to make sure the government kept its word.

"Most of all the government must give head teachers and teachers the genuine freedom to get on with their jobs otherwise its words will ring hollow and do nothing to solve many of the problems education in this country faces, least not the chronic shortage of teachers," Ms May said.

Teacher shortages

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the government should concentrate on addressing teacher shortages, rather than raising the prospect of greater involvement from the private sector.

John Dunford
John Dunford of Sha warns of a hierarchy of schools
"Privatisation is irrelevant to the fundamental issue of teacher shortages," he said.

He warned the proposals would alienate teachers, whom he said do not want to become employees of private companies.

"If it isn't broke why on earth are they fixing it and in the process, wasting their time and promoting massive opposition?"

Hierarchy of schools

General secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, voiced concerns that greater diversity could lead to a steeper hierarchy of schools.

"There is already considerable capacity for diversity between schools," Mr Dunford said.

"What we need is diversity within schools to create the widest range of opportunities for all young people in our schools."

Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said greater freedom for successful heads and governors was welcome.

But he warned: "The top priority for education must be children, not shareholders."

"Talk of sponsorship must not, in practice, be an opportunity for profit greedy companies to make a fast buck," he said.

Key stories



See also:

08 Jun 01 | Education
12 Jun 01 | Education
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