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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 April 2006, 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK
New powers 'will improve schools'
By Alison Smith
BBC News education reporter at the NASUWT conference

Under-performing schools must have support, the government says
Local authorities are to get powers and more money to raise standards in poorly performing schools, Education Secretary Ruth Kelly has announced.

About 150 councils in England will get 30m to encourage federations between successful and inadequate schools, she told the NASUWT union conference.

Authorities will be able to issue "warning notices" where poor management is damaging standards.

They will also have a duty to tackle mediocre or "coasting" schools.

Once contacted by councils, head teachers will have 15 days to respond.

Under-performing schools must have targeted support, the government says, so that poor performance does not become entrenched.

'Ghetto schools'

Many of the federations will be backed by external "trusts", Ms Kelly said.

These would allow outside bodies, such as businesses or charities, to become more involved in schools.

It is unacceptable to allow a school to languish with poor results - blighting the life chances of the children at those schools
Nick Gibb
Shadow schools minister

Ms Kelly told the NASUWT annual conference in Birmingham that her announcements "nail the myth that our reforms will not help our most disadvantaged communities or will somehow create 'ghetto schools'."

She said: "We have made good progress in reducing the number of failing schools and the average time it takes to turn around a school in special measures.

"But we know that there are still pupils who are let down by attending poorly performing or failing schools for too long, and schools that do not receive the necessary support and challenge until it is too late."

The government's Education and Inspections Bill, currently going through Parliament, would give schools more independence from local authorities, allowing them greater say over admissions and budgets.

But a Department for Education and Skills spokesman said there was no contradiction with Ms Kelly's 30m plans for councils to tackle poorly performing schools.

However, John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "This guidance is extremely worrying.

"It is a far cry from the prime minister's vision of schools being more independent from local authorities."

Tory support

But Shadow Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: "We support any measure to tackle coasting and under-performing schools.

"We are full square behind the Government in their attempt to tackle the quarter of the secondary schools which are underperforming.

"It is unacceptable to allow a school to languish with poor results - blighting the life chances of the children at those schools."

However, Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Sarah Teather said: "This is typical 'tough guy' spin from the government today which misrepresents the real issue.

"The relationship between a local authority and schools in its area needs to be a constructive rather than an antagonistic one."

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