Page last updated at 22:37 GMT, Monday, 11 January 2010

Balls defends home educator plans

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Children's Secretary Ed Balls has defended plans to force home-educating parents to register with their local council as "very light touch indeed".

Under plans in the Children, Schools and Families Bill, local authorities will be given the right to refuse registration, meaning parents could effectively be banned from home schooling their child if there are fears about the youngster's safety or the quality of their education.

Opening second reading debate on the bill in the Commons on 11 January 2010, Mr Balls dismissed Tory claims that the plans would "alienate and antagonise" home educators.

Mr Balls said the debate on the future of education was about whether to drive up standards through stepping in with extra powers and support, or "stand back" and opt for the Conservatives' plans based around a Swedish-style free-market model.

But shadow schools secretary Michael Gove said Mr Balls was using the bill to establish in law "one of his highest priorities, a goal he pursues with restless zeal, his motivation, indeed, for being in public office - the drawing of dividing lines".

Mr Gove argued that the bill would introduce more bureaucracy which could prevent high-achievers from wanting to become teachers.

"We want a culture in education where the craft of teaching is respected and the professional status of heads and teachers is enhanced at every stage, which is why we will oppose many of the provisions within this bill," he told MPs.

Liberal Democrat spokesman David Laws said his party had "very considerable concerns" about the bill and hoped that MPs would be able to block its passage before the government was forced to call a general election.

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