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Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Big changes for secondary schools
Dramatic changes in the shape of secondary education in England have been heralded with the publication of the postponed White Paper on education.
Other key proposals in the paper, Schools Achieving Success, include an expansion of single faith schools, raising fears that in practice this will mean an increase in racial segregation.
The drive to improve standards in the early years of secondary schooling, with an extension of the literacy and numeracy strategies from the primary years, will be underpinned by league tables of the performance of 14 year olds in national tests.
The government is to seek powers to "ring fence" the money councils are supposed to spend on education - which has angered local authority leaders.
And the government wants to lead a debate on the whole future of 14 -19 schooling, " to build a consensus about the best way forward".
End to testing in Wales
And there is to be consultation on school admissions arrangements - often a fraught business for pupils and their parents.
That will cover England and Wales, where separate proposals have been made by the Welsh Assembly education minister - without the specialist schools, and with a plan to scrap testing for seven year olds.
The plans for more specialist schools were first trailed in February - when the prime minister's official spokesman upset many by referring to the end of the "bog standard comprehensive".
Schools that can raise £50,000 in sponsorship and come up with an approved development plan can get extra money to specialise in technology, arts, languages or sport, and now engineering, science, business and enterprise.
There is a new category - maths and computing - and the idea of schools combining specialisms or working in partnership with other schools.
The intention is that almost half of England's secondary schools will be specialists by 2005 - but ministers have indicated there is no ultimate limit.
Pupil performance in specialist schools has improved faster than the national average.
But there have been criticisms that this is creating a two-tier education system.
The more successful a school is, the more freedom it will be given to go its own way - for instance, by varying parts of the curriculum or teachers' conditions.
Better-performing schools will be allowed to take over those that are struggling.
The education secretary has been stressing this approach and playing down one of the most contentious issues for teachers' unions - the proposed increase in private sector involvement in the running of state schools.
She said that she did not think large numbers of schools would be affected.
"I suspect that the number of schools in which this will happen is going to be very few but I'm not prepared to ignore anything that will do the trick, including the use of partners from the voluntary or private sectors."
"The bottom line is, head teachers run schools, governing bodies run schools - this is not about privatisation."
The argument over the planned encouragement for an increase in the number of church schools became even more controversial because of the racial troubles seen this summer in cities such as Oldham and Bradford.
A report on Bradford was conducted by Lord Herman Ouseley, the former head of the Commission for Racial Equality.
It said: "There is a fear of confronting all-white and all-Muslim schools about their contribution, or rather the lack of contribution, to social and racial integration and segregation in schools..."
14 - 19 debate
The White Paper says too many young people still gain few or no qualifications and vocational education has been persistently undervalued, with too many "failed by the system".
Changes have begun with the introduction of new Vocational GCSEs from September next year and a £38m programme of work-related learning.
But the government wants a wider debate and will set out further proposals in a separate consultation paper.
Children are to be encouraged to have their say - for instance, by being consulted by Ofsted inspectors about what they think of their schools.
The government says it plans to clarify and simplify key aspects of admissions law and guidance - in particular, requiring local education authorities to co-ordinate arrangements in their area so that all parents in an area receive a school place offer on the same day.
Admissions Forums, currently only a recommendation, have played a valuable role and are to be made mandatory across the country, the government says.
A separate consultation document is being published alongside this White Paper detailing all the proposed changes to admissions "with the aim of improving fairness and transparency for all parents".
The government has revived a plan to give the education secretary a reserve power to "ring fence" education budgets - prevent councils from spending the money on anything else.
The chair of the Local Government Association, Sir Jeremy Beecham, has written to both the prime minister and the chancellor of the exchequer to ask them to think again.
"It would be most unfortunate if the future of education funding is the subject of a serious row between central and local government over the next two years," he said.
The BBC's Mike Baker quizzed on the changes
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