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Last Updated: Friday, 3 February 2006, 01:08 GMT
MPs offered compromise on schools
School classroom
MPs fear the reforms could lead to selection
Ministers will offer a compromise on reform plans for England's schools in an effort to avert a damaging rebellion by Labour MPs, the BBC has learned.

More than 90 MPs have criticised proposed "trust" schools which would have more autonomy - raising fears among many of increased selection.

But local authorities will be offered a "strategic oversight" to prevent this.

The most senior critic, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, is among those now expected to back the plans.

The school admissions code would also get more legal force under the compromise, sources say.

'Much to do'

The revised plans appear to reinforce the role of existing admissions forums, which seek to co-ordinate admissions in an area.

Currently schools have to "have regard to" what forums say. It is thought the government might change this to say they would have to abide by what was agreed.

And while the admissions code would not be written straight into the law books, schools would have to "act in accordance with it".

Work on the final details of the compromise package, expected to be completed by the end of next week, is still continuing.

The proposals have been tested on potential Labour rebels in a series of private meetings.

BBC Radio Five Live chief political correspondent John Pienaar said the response to the plans had been "pretty positive".

John Prescott went public with his reservations about the education plans last year.

He was worried the proposals could lead to a two-tier education system, and said he was "not convinced major reform was necessary".

But he is expected to use a speech in Hull to signal that his concerns have now largely been met as long as certain safeguards are included in the education bill.

In recent days, Mr Prescott has been a key figure in efforts to secure a deal between ministers and potential Labour rebels.

'Worried'

One of the Labour rebel MPs, David Chaytor, said the mooted compromises were "a really important step forward".

But he wanted to see them in black and white - and there was still "much more to be done", he said.

Liberal Democrat spokesman Ed Davey said the offer showed how worried the government was.

"The prime minister is still in a very difficult position as he now risks losing the Tory support that he was relying on to get the bill through," he said.

Mr Davey said the Lib Dems would continue to fight for genuinely fair admissions, real freedoms for schools and changes that helped them collaborate rather than compete.

Alternative plan

The government's Education White Paper, published last year, proposed setting up "trust" schools, independent of local authority control, allowing them more say over admissions and budgets.

Councils would become "champions" of high standards, rather than providers of education, it added.

The reforms are seen as central to Tony Blair's third term in office.

But more than 90 Labour MPs have signed up to an alternative plan, which calls for the existing national schools admissions code to be made legally binding.

Last month, the Commons education select committee called for more safeguards, such as schools having "benchmarks" for taking pupils from poorer backgrounds.

But Conservative members of the committee published their own report demanding that the government presses ahead with the full reforms.

Opposition leader David Cameron is backing trust schools.

Tony Blair has admitted he is performing a "high-wire act" on the issue and is thought to want to avoid relying on Conservative support for the measures to get through Parliament.


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