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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 May, 2005, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
School choice promise for parents
School desk
Pupils will be promised a more individualised form of learning
Parents are being promised more choice over schools, as the Queen's Speech unveils the government's third-term plans for education.

There will be an Education Bill to make the school system more responsive to parents - and to hasten the process of tackling failing schools.

It also reiterates that parents, community groups and other providers will be able to open their own schools.

Pupils are also promised more individualised learning.

The Queen's Speech lays out how the government's five-year strategy for education in England, announced last summer, will be implemented.

Consumer choice

It emphasises that the school system will be expected to provide a greater sense of consumer choice for parents.

"New educational providers", which could be groups of parents, faith groups, community organisations or businesses, will be allowed to set up schools within the state system - as long as there is parental demand and they observe rules on fair admission.

And within existing schools, there will be more individually-tailored learning, and extra support for pupils in their weaker subjects.

There will also be a tougher line on struggling schools, with new powers of intervention for the education watchdog, Ofsted, and for local education authorities.

This could see Ofsted being allowed to close schools - a right currently held by the Department for Education and Skills. So far this year, there have been seven failing schools closed.

The government says this aims to "better address the legitimate concerns of parents about the standards of their child's school".

And the legislation will promise that each child will have a "pupil profile" which will allow parents to track their progress.

Successful schools will be allowed to have greater autonomy - with the suggestion that they will have "more flexibility in the structure of governing bodies".

Initiative fatigue

Primary schools, as well as secondary, will be able to gain foundation status by a simple vote of the governing body, giving them more control over their affairs and a more detached relationship with local education authorities.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said this was a "radical reform package, working with parents to improve standards" which would produce a "diverse state school system".

The National Union of Teachers warned that plans for enouraging parents to bring about change in schools sounded "ominous".

"Teachers will fear that unrepresentative groups kicking up a fuss at the school gates could have too much influence over a school to the detriment of all the children," said the union's leader, Steve Sinnott.

The leader of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, said that schools needed a period of stability rather than more changes.

In particular, he "strongly opposed" allowing Ofsted to order the closure of failing schools.

"This should only be done by local authorities which have the long-term strategic responsibility for school places and understand the needs of their local communities," said Dr Dunford.


The leader of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Mary Bousted, also criticised the plan to allow Ofsted to close schools and said the "government's emphasis on consumer choice is misguided and will not address the problems of social exclusion for our poorest pupils".

The Liberal Democrats newly-installed education spokesperson, Ed Davey, said the government's plans "fail to offer parents and pupils meaningful choice in education".

"This is not an agenda to restore parents' faith in the state system," he said.

The Local Government Association said allowing new educational providers to set up state schools could give a false impression of parental choice.

"Councils want to see a schools system that delivers for all pupils and parents in a community," a spokesperson said.

There was a risk that new providers would "cherry pick" pupils, and that an increased supply of places would "destabilise" existing schools.

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