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Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
Education Bill goes up to the wire
School pupil
The bill could ping-pong in Parliament
Ministers are pushing key reforms in their flagship Education Bill up to the wire in an effort to get them through Parliament before the long summer recess.

The Commons managed to overturn two major Lords defeats to its education plans on Monday.

MPs reversed peers' objections to proposals to allow school governing bodies to form companies.

They also overturned Tory plans to cut red tape in schools.


The bill will now be picked over by peers next Tuesday.

They could make further amendments, resulting in a case of parliamentary ping-pong just days before the Commons recess starts on 24 July.

The bill aims to transform secondary schools, encourage innovation, drive up standards and pave the way for more faith schools.

It will also give ministers powers to tackle failing schools and education authorities, by bringing in external partners - possibly other schools or authorities, or private management.

Schools Minister David Miliband said standards could be improved if schools joined together with companies.

'Best practice'

This would allow them to take advantage of economies of scale by bulk ordering supplies and enable them to sell on their expertise to other schools.

"We stand for enterprise in and by schools. We want new partnerships between schools and the best practice to lead the rest," Mr Miliband told MPs.

"The new freedom ... will enable those schools that choose to use it to share good practice and to support other schools.

"I find it hard to see why this form of collaborative and innovative activity, to benefit the wider community of schools, is being opposed."

Shadow attorney general Bill Cash asked who would be liable if the company failed and whether schools would need to take out insurance against law suits.


He questioned whether governors would face prosecution over deaths on school trips.

Attention could be diverted from education to the burden of running the company, he said.

Phil Willis, for the Liberal Democrats, turned on the minister, accusing the government of "irresponsibility" for failing to answer concerns about the bill.

"Clearly there is either a lot the government is trying to hide here or you genuinely do not know answers to the questions."

He added: "Given the appalling record of private companies formed out of public sector organisations, it is important as far as schools are concerned that we get something right if in fact we are going to go down this road."

Red tape

The Liberal Democrats will fight the issue in the Lords, he said, because the government had failed to answer concerns that a school's assets could be sold off if a company went to the wall.

Mr Miliband argued that schools would be able to form companies only if they had the agreement of the local education authority.

Delegated budgets to schools would not be at risk if the company went bust, he said.

The minister opposed Tory calls for a cut back in red tape in schools and the amount of information sent to them.

'Small steps'

Mr Miliband said the government was determined to go ahead with the creation of school forums which would discuss funding locally - a move rejected by peers.

The minister said the proposals had been changed to meet some concerns in the Lords.

The "small steps" were welcomed by Graham Brady, for the Tories, but did not go far enough, he said.

Lords will consider the changes made next Monday.

See also:

04 Jul 02 | Politics
24 Jun 02 | Education
05 Dec 01 | Politics
05 Sep 01 | Education
04 Apr 02 | Education
03 Apr 02 | Education
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