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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 13 November, 2002, 13:36 GMT
Education reforms to continue

The Queen's Speech says raising educational standards remains the government's main priority for Britain's prosperity - but no new legislation is timetabled.

The government intends to publish university reform proposals, as is known already - they have been postponed until January.

Secondary school reform will continue - through the implementation of the existing provisions in the Education Act which became law this summer.

And newspaper reports that there would be spot fines for truants' parents appear to have been premature although ministers are minded to move that way.

'Swifter action'

The government repeats its determination to tackle the issue but points out it has already taken a number of steps - including giving courts the power to jail parents of persistent truants.

Truancy sweeps are to be extended.

As the Queen sat down, the Department for Education said it was "considering what more we can do to support education welfare officers and others in tackling truancy".

This might include "enabling them to take swifter and more effective action against parents who refuse to take their responsibilities seriously".

Proposals are promised "in due course". Sources have indicated that "on the spot" fines are being considered.

Universities

The government has set out the aims of its higher education review:

  • improve access to universities by groups of people currently under-represented in higher education, especially students from low-income families
  • "set universities free" to build on their strengths and compete in the increasingly global market
  • strengthen standards of teaching and research
  • respond to employers' demands for more, high-quality graduates
  • reform student support
  • cut "red tape and bureaucracy"
  • encourage stronger higher education-business links

The shadow education secretary, Damian Green, said: "The government has been talking tough on truancy for years but they are still addicted to gimmicks rather than substantial policies.

"Last week they floated the idea of instant fines for parents of truanting children but already they are backing away from this."

He said the government was "softening people up" for higher tuition fees - but should stop dithering and come clean about its intentions.

Liberal Democrat spokesman David Rendel said: "It is time the government followed the example of the Scottish Executive by scrapping tuition fees and restoring grants."

Secondary schools

Secondary school reform will, the government said, "continue to promote opportunity and choice through greater diversity for parents and pupils".

The Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, earlier this week stressed the provisions in the 2002 Education Act to give greater "earned autonomy" to successful schools.

He has yet to spell out how this will work in practice, but told a conference in London that school inspectors would judge which schools deserved more freedom.

He revealed that his department had received the first application from a school to disregard legislation if it acts as a barrier to experimentation.

Afternoon out of class

A primary school in England - which he did not name - had asked that all teachers be given Wednesday afternoons for planning and training while pupils would do a "wide range of enrichment and extra-curricular activities".

Mr Clarke said: "It is a model that may work well for everyone involved, the school's workforce, children and parents."

Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers' union, said: "The ability of schools which have earned autonomy to opt out of the national pay and conditions framework will cause teachers real concern" and would "meet with strong resistance".

Mr Clarke also said he saw no reason why all schools should not eventually qualify, which pleased John Dunford, head of the Secondary Heads Association.

"One of the weaknesses in the earlier announcement about earned autonomy was the small number of schools likely to be involved," he said.

'Investment needed'

At the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, deputy general secretary Gwen Evans the government was right to recognise that truancy and other behavioural issues were "part of the jigsaw" that had to be tackled to enable teachers to raise standards.

But she said: "What parents in difficulties need is access to a range of effective support services.

"Otherwise, there's a real risk that the cost of improving school attendance will destroy already struggling families."

She said ministers must not underestimate the sustained funding that would be needed to back up their measures.

See also:

30 Oct 02 | Education
24 Jun 02 | Education
18 Jun 02 | Education
10 Oct 02 | Education
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