Page last updated at 16:54 GMT, Tuesday, 6 April 2010 17:54 UK

Schools 'relentlessly centralised' under Labour

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

Pupil taking national test
The impact of national tests on schools was criticised

England's education system has seen a relentless trend towards increased central control under Labour, a key Commons' comittee says.

This has led to "initiative overload", hampering schools' ability to offer a balanced education, the Children's Schools and Families Committee says.

The next government would have to find a suitable balance between central and local control, the report concludes.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls said his reforms had had a positive impact.

The report entitled; From Baker to Balls: the foundations of the education system, heard from four former Secretaries of State for Education, including Conservative Lord Baker and Labour's Estelle Morris, as well as the current Children's Secretary Ed Balls.

'Micro-manage'

It looked at four broad themes focusing mainly on Labour policies but also looking at some dating back to the Conservatives for context.

These were: testing and assessment, national curriculum; school accountability and the training of teachers.

It said the most persistent theme running through each was the tension between central and local responsibilty.

The report uged a "move away from central control", with governments providing "broad frameworks" rather than "seeking to micro-manage the day to day work of teachers".

It criticised the level of central prescription in the national curriculum, as it stood under Labour in 2009.

But it added that those criticisms would have been equally true when it was first introduced under a Conservative government.

Ed Balls has made further centralisation a centrepiece of his party's election platform
Michael Gove

Shadow Schools' Secretary

It welcomed the suggestion from Labour's Ed Balls that there was a need for more resources and decision-making to be devolved to individual schools.

However, the committee questioned whether actions would match rhetoric.

It said much was still being driven through central programmes and targets, despite assurances in the government's white paper.

It added that a lack of coherence in the school accountability system risked confusing and disheartening teachers and head teachers.

Looking ahead to the next Parliament, the report said: "Achieving a suitable balance between local and central control, and the need for coherence of policy have dogged education policy for decades.

"They are, however, real and urgent challenges, and the education policies of the government in the next parliament will be judged by their success in meeting them."

Mr Balls said his government had reduced prescription and increased flexibility because it believed in the professionalism of teachers.

'Constant meddling'

"It is why we are investing responsibility for school improvement in our school leaders: schools leading their own improvement and leading the system."

He added that it had remodelled the school workforce so that teachers could have the greatest impact on the learning, well-being and development of their pupils.

Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove said the report recognised that centralisation of the education system had gone far too far under this government.

"Yet Ed Balls has made further centralisation a centrepiece of his party's election platform.

"He wants to legislate to force schools to follow parent and pupil 'guarantees' written by Whitehall bureaucrats regardless of the best interests of their community."

Liberal Democrats children's spokesman David Laws said: "Successive Labour and Conservative governments have stripped schools and teachers of their independence.

"The Liberal Democrats want to end the constant meddling from Whitehall.

"We will replace the national curriculum with a slimmed down version and give headteachers and teachers far more control over their budgets and what they teach."



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