» Thursday, November 17, 2005


Asked for a reaction to suggestions that the Prime Minister viewed the successful passage of the Education Bill as a "de facto show of confidence" in his leadership ability, the PMOS said that he had no intention of getting drawn into a hypothetical discussion. It was important to focus on the substance of the issue, not speculate about the process. The Prime Minister viewed the Education White Paper as a way of building on the education reforms we were already establishing. At its core was a determination to raise standards in all our schools, particularly those in deprived areas. That was what the Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly, would continue to set out to colleagues and the public, as indeed she was doing today in her speech to new Head teachers at the QEII Conference Centre. We were seeking ways to personalise education in order to help people catch up. We were also introducing tough new measures to tackle the problem of discipline in the classroom.

Questioned as to whether an independent arbiter would be appointed to deal with the issue of selection, the PMOS pointed out that the post of Adjudicator already existed. The White Paper would extend the Adjudicator’s remit in cases where a ruling had been made disallowing any change to admissions procedures. This would mean that a policy would have to apply for three years, instead of one year as at present. It would also be the case that any new school would not be able to change its admissions policy for three years.

Asked if the independent Adjudicator had the legal authority to abandon selection by ability, the PMOS said that there was a legal requirement for schools to take account of the Adjudicator’s rulings. What had changed was the fact that his verdict would have to apply for three years, not one. It was imperative for schools to take the Code of Practice into account. If that did not happen, other schools, parents or local authorities could refer the school to the Adjudicator. Pressed as to whether the Adjudicator would legally be able to force schools to abandon selection by ability, the PMOS said that the experts in the field, having heard what the BBC had been saying about this issue this morning, believed that some journalists had missed the point. The important thing was that the Code of Practice was legally binding.

Asked for the Government’s definition of ‘selection’ in terms of whether it referred to selection by ability, aptitude, interview or even postcode, the PMOS said that the Government was absolutely clear that there would be no return to the 11-plus. Equally, in referring to aptitude, it was important to recognise that specialist schools had been able to take that into account, so that up to 10% of their intake could be selected on those grounds. That said, the actual figure had remained fairly stable at 6%, despite the fact that the number of specialist schools had increased from around 200 to over 2,500 and that two third of pupils in secondary education were now in secondary schools. The Government’s commitment to a fair admissions policy was therefore very clear.

Briefing took place at 7:00 | Search for related news

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