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Last Updated: Friday, 14 April 2006, 18:43 GMT 19:43 UK
Call for ballots on trust schools
By Gary Eason
Education editor, BBC News website, at the NUT conference, Torquay

A city academy
Opposition is planned against trust schools
Teachers' leaders are calling for parents to be consulted locally on plans for "trust schools" in England.

The National Union of Teachers executive has put an emergency motion to its annual conference, and hopes to amend the government's education bill.

It also remains opposed to wealthy sponsors having "undue influence" over city academies - now tangled up in the claims about the awarding of honours.

Labour MP David Chaytor says academies' accountability may now be in question.

"What we have here with the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust is almost a Department for Education and Skills outside the Department for Education and Skills, and that raises all kinds of questions of accountability.

"I think a lot of people have asked these questions over the last few months, and the current difficulty has just highlighted that."

He was speaking after the arrest of head teacher Des Smith by police investigating allegations that people who have given money to the Labour Party have been promised honours in return.

NUT general secretary Steve Sinnott said the union was in favour of philanthropy, and of business people using their expertise to help improve schools, but opposed to people being able to "peddle" their beliefs in the education system.

Steve Sinnott
Mr Sinnott says his union is in favour of philanthropy

The emergency motion on trust schools attacks what it describes as the encouragement, in the Education and Inspections Bill currently before Parliament, of "a market between schools".

It argues that there is no evidence that giving schools "self-governing independent status" raises standards.

On the contrary, it says, communities would be harmed and the bill would "compound the effects of social disadvantage".

The government argues the precise opposite - that its plans are about improving opportunities for the most disadvantaged.

Mr Sinnott said schools already competed with one another because of "high stakes testing" and league tables - and trust status would make things worse.

The government's proposals would "disenfranchise parents", he added.

It was strange that a government that was promoting parental choice was denying them the opportunity of saying whether they supported a school being changed to a trust school, he said.

So the union would continue to campaign against trusts and academies.

It hoped to "improve parent power" by ensuring people were asked for their views.

"In the past, when schools were considering becoming grant maintained - opting out - there was some democracy in that parents were given a choice. They had a ballot."

Taking control

The government proposes to set up these new schools, backed by sponsors such as faith groups and businesses.

Ministers say they are about developing the specialist schools which now form the majority of secondary schools in England.

Like existing foundation schools they will take control of their own buildings and land, directly employ their staff, and will set and manage their own admissions criteria.

Critics - including numerous Labour backbenchers - view the concept with mistrust.

Among concessions the government had to make to get the bill through its first major hurdle in the Commons were promises to do with admissions.

They reiterated that further academic selection was illegal, and propose to toughen up the code of practice so schools must adhere to it rather than just "have regard" to it.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See life inside a specialist school



SEE ALSO:
Teachers 'oppose city academies'
14 Mar 05 |  Education
City academies 'worry teachers'
01 Nov 04 |  Education
200 city academies promised
28 Jun 04 |  Education


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