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Last Updated: Monday, 24 October 2005, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
What is in the White Paper
Ruth Kelly Tony Blair
Will Ruth Kelly and Tony Blair give birth to a fairer school system?
"Self-governing, independent state schools" have been announced as the future model for schools in England by the Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The White Paper, Higher Standards, Better Schools For All, means that schools "will finally be opened up to real parent power", promised Mr Blair.

The Education Secretary Ruth Kelly has said that the key themes of the reforms are "freedom for schools and power for parents".

But how will this be put into practice?

In terms of parental choice, this means addressing the thorny question of school admissions - or more particularly the problem of parents not getting the place they want for their child.

Catchment areas

Both Tony Blair and Ruth Kelly have criticised the current situation in which school selection is via the estate-agent - in which buying a house in the right location has become the way to get into a good, non-selective state school.

Estate agent
House prices can be the selection process for popular schools

The White Paper does not propose any overarching solution to this - and is not imposing any alternative admissions system.

Instead it proposes ways of introducing a greater number of desirable school places - through the setting up of new schools and encouraging successful schools to expand.

A new type of self-governing school authority, a "trust", will be created, which can oversee individual schools or a mini-chain of schools. These can be run by successful schools or outside providers, such as universities, businesses, faith groups or community groups.

In particular, parents are being encouraged to consider setting up schools - with funding promised to help them put their ambitions into bricks and mortar.

A "schools commissioner" will be appointed to help parents set up their own schools and to match potential backers with schools.

Parents are also being promised a more regular supply of information from schools, including using e-mail.

School buses

The prime minister has promised that there will be no veto over new schools because of surplus places in the existing schools.

School bus
Subsidised buses will widen the number of schools in reach

Private schools will be invited to enter the state sector, perhaps using the self-governing model of the city academies. More faith schools, particularly Muslim schools, could also be encouraged to join the state system.

In advance of the White Paper, the government promised to challenge the dominance of middle-class families over successful schools.

But the proposals are about encouragement rather than enforcement.

There will be free school transport, up to a distance of six miles, for children from low-income families. And there will be advisers to help parents make sense of the admissions maze.

But the admissions system will only be altered when the school itself wants to change.

An alternative proposed in the White Paper is "banding" , in which schools take pupils across a range of different abilities.

And in terms of allocating places, the greater independence of schools will not extend to allowing them to select pupils on ability - and any return to 11-plus exams remains ruled out.

Council cuts

Following in the path of the city academies, which are already outside the control of local education authorities, other schools will be allowed to become independent state schools and take a more "arm's length" relationship with local authorities.

Town hall
Councils will take a less direct role in running schools

There will be a re-definition of the role of local authorities - with talk of councils becoming "champions" of parents and pupils, acting as a mediator between schools and their consumers, rather than being seen as the provider.

The government has already promised that all schools will be given more independence and control over finances and organisation.

Worries about classroom discipline have been considered by a panel of head teachers - and there will be a more clearly-defined set of rights for teachers in imposing their authority, such as allowing them to restrain disruptive pupils and sanctions for parents who fail to supervise suspended pupils.

Catch-up classes

Under the "personalisation" heading, Ruth Kelly has announced that struggling pupils and the most gifted will receive customised classes - either to help them catch-up or to stretch further ahead.

In particular, there are concerns that children are starting secondary school without the basic skills in English and maths - and there will be catch-up classes with pupils being taught in individual or small-group classes.

Although less headline-grabbing, but with longer-term significance, have been the repeated suggestions that assessment of education has to be about individual pupils, rather than looking at the performance of institutions.

Much of the debate about education has been about the running and assessment of schools - but Ruth Kelly has repeatedly pointed to the importance of looking much more closely at the achievement of individual pupils.


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