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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 July, 2004, 18:05 GMT 19:05 UK
More freedom in school reforms
children and teacher at computer
All schools should specialise, says Charles Clarke
Every secondary school in England is being urged to become an "independent specialist" under the government's five-year plan for learning.

It wants them all to be specialising in at least one subject by 2008.

They will be urged to adopt foundation status - taking control of their own land, buildings and other assets and employing their own staff.

Parents are being told it should also be easier for popular schools to expand and admit more pupils.

All schools will be encouraged to have uniforms and house systems, as part of a traditional ethos aimed at wooing middle-class parents.

The government is also working on ideas to tackle false allegations against teachers, perhaps by imposing sanctions on the accusing pupils and parents.

But this is a tricky area legally, and proposals are not expected before the autumn.

'Strong message'

The Five-Year Strategy for Children and Learners, published on Thursday by the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, covers all age groups, including adults.

But the focus is on secondary schools - the area where the government feels it still has most to do in raising standards.

KEY THEMES
More independence
Collective responsibility
Uniforms and house systems
Specialist or academy status for all
Popular schools can expand
Three-year budgets
Uniforms and school houses are common in fee-charging schools.

At the moment about a fifth of state schools do not have uniforms.

The five-year plan says they should, as uniforms "help give pupils pride in their school and make them ambassadors for their school in the community".

Mr Clarke said he would not compel schools to adopt one.

"But we will send a very strong message to say we think this is the best way to proceed," he told journalists.

In Labour's "Big Conversations" around the country, people had welcomed the idea of house systems as creating a greater sense of intimacy in big schools.

Expansion

Ministers have been stressing that "there is no surplus places rule" - by which people cannot choose to go to a popular school if there are places locally in a less successful one.

LACK OF CHOICE
You work really hard and attract people to come here and they are not allowed to
Head teacher Derek Greenup

But they acknowledge that this happens in practice. And they say they want to encourage popular schools to expand, using a special pot of capital funding to build the capacity.

A new process would mean a decision on expansion plans being made within 12 weeks - with a strong presumption in favour of schools that did want to take in more students.

Having direct control of their own assets would, it is argued, make it easier for them to build the necessary classrooms.

About a third of schools have foundation status - primarily those that opted out of local authority control under the Conservatives as "grant maintained" schools, a category Labour abolished.

The five-year plan proposes making it less complex for more to go down that route, perhaps also seeking sponsorship from a business or charity to develop a particular "ethos".

HAVE YOUR SAY
Disadvantaged children will be further disadvantaged by these processes
Allan Keen, Bristol

Head teachers will have three-year budgets, as previously promised, and these will be clearly "ring-fenced" so local education authorities cannot use the money for other purposes.

"We want to give all head teachers a certainty for the future about where they want to go and that is why the three-year budget is so absolutely essential," Mr Clarke said.

But control of funding will remain with local education authorities, which will continue to decide local priorities.

Failing schools will be closed or turned into city academies with new or refurbished premises part-funded by outside sponsors.

The government also wants schools in each area to collaborate more, particularly with regard to disruptive pupils - sharing the load so that they are not all "dumped" in one school, which then goes into decline.

Mr Clarke told MPs there would be a "step change" in education, which must no longer be the preserve of the few but "the entitlement of all".

Alternatives

The plans have already provoked disquiet on Labour's back benches, with 32 MPs registering their opposition to "foundation schools".

Former Health Secretary Frank Dobson is among those complaining that local education authorities will not have a say in running the new-look schools.

The Tories say parents "have been here before and they will know by now not to listen to Labour's spin".

They have proposed giving every school grant-maintained status - controlling their own budgets and admissions policies - and giving parents more choice over which school their children go to.

The Liberal Democrats on Thursday published their own plans to guarantee every child "a quality education close to home", with better teachers, smaller classes and fewer tests.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's John Pienaar
"Experimental ideas are being expanded massively"


Education Secretary Charles Clarke
"We are putting resources into schools and there is therefore more choice"



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