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Last Updated: Monday, 6 February 2006, 20:47 GMT
Schools to face interviewing ban
School classroom
The reforms would create a new breed of "trust" schools
A compromise package for schools reform in England has been finalised by ministers trying to defuse a row with critical Labour MPs.

More than 90 MPs have raised concerns the Education White Paper might see a back door return to academic selection.

The concessions include a specific ban on schools interviewing parents or pupils when they decide admissions.

Ex-Education Secretary Estelle Morris said the changes were in the right direction but more detail was needed.

COMPROMISE PLAN
Admissions code not to become law but will be strengthened
Specific ban on schools interviewing pupils and parents
Local councils will be able to build new schools
Powers of admissions forums to be increased so they can object if they feel a school is not abiding by the admissions code
Becoming a trust school will be voluntary and schools adjudicator can rule against creation of new trusts

The government wants to create new "trust" schools with new freedom to control their assets and admission policies.

But critics feared the proposals would mean a "free-for-all" which could create divisions between different types of school.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly set out the compromise in a letter to the head of the Commons education committee, which criticised parts of the original plans.

"We entirely understand why people want a clear assurance that the purpose of these reforms is neither a back door way of reintroducing academic selection nor preventing local authorities carrying out their necessary strategic oversight," she said.

Ms Kelly's deputy, Jacqui Smith, insisted the letter was not a climbdown but showed the plans were about raising standards for all children.

Interviews

The compromise stresses that local councils would have an overview of education in their areas.

Existing admissions forums will get new powers to complain to the schools adjudicator if they believe schools are not abiding by the admissions code.

The national admissions code is also to get more legal teeth, although it will not be written wholesale into the law books.

And there will be a specific ban on any schools interviewing pupils or parents.

Only a very small number of schools use interviews but MPs on the Commons education select committee wanted new rules to ban them.

Ministers have, however, explicitly rejected calls for schools to be set "benchmarks" for the number of children from poorer backgrounds they should admit.

The compromise means local councils could challenge plans from the new generation of "trust" schools to expand.

And critical Labour MPs have won their struggle to maintain councils' right to open new "community" schools.

'Significant moves'

Originally, ministers intended to open up the schooling market by allowing only alternative providers - businesses and parents, for example - to build new schools.

A group of MPs and peers who have spearheaded opposition to the original government plans discussed the compromise offer on Monday evening.

Former minister Lady Morris said the government had shown it wanted to make significant changes to quell their concerns.

But she said: "There is a lot of detail to be hammered out, there is a lot of uncertainty and still some unanswered questions."

Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons education committee, said the plans had not been "watered down", but the extra safeguards would be backed by the majority of Labour MPs.

'Reversal needed'

Conservative shadow education secretary David Willetts said his party would only decide how to vote on the plans when the Education Bill was published later this month.

But he said: "It is very disappointing that Tony Blair is making concessions to his back benchers rather than standing up for parents and a better education."

Lib Dem education spokesman Ed Davey demanded "major change, not minor compromise" on the reform plans.

"On issues like fair admissions to the local schools, ministers will have to go in to full scale reverse," he said.

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, welcomed the changes, saying: "The government seems to have recognised the dangers inherent in its original proposals."

News of the compromise comes as Tony Blair prepares to be questioned by the Commons liaison committee of senior MPs on Tuesday.

The prime minister, who has admitted walking a "high wire act" over the reforms, spent the weekend finalising the package at his Chequers country retreat.




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Hear more details on the compromise deal



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