» Monday, February 6, 2006

Schools White Paper Concessions

Asked if it was right that the Prime Minister was willing to offer the following concessions on the Schools White Paper: local council could still build schools; local council would still have a strategic overview and a ban on admission by interview, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that rather than this happening by drip feed the best time for questions to be answered was at the appropriate time when the government responded to the select committee and when the bill was published. In terms of the strategic overview item, he had already previously briefed that one of the two key principles in the bill was to give local authorities a strategic role.

Asked if these items suggested the areas that the government might be considering for concession, the PMOS said rather than answering a shopping list it was best to wait for the comprehensive response.

Asked whether, following the Deputy Prime Minister’s comments on Friday, if that now meant the Prime Minister had given up the sort of freedoms he had talked about over the past few months on admissions policies and interview bans enforced by a statutory code, the PMOS said that people could see if they read the select committee report that it had two key principles: one was about a strategic role for LEAs and the other was support for the idea of independent trust schools. These were both in the select committee report. So the idea that the Prime Minister was in some way abandoning that idea was simplistic in the extreme. He was not and the select committee had not asked for that. They had supported that. Equally, people had sought assurances on selection and the Prime Minister and Ruth Kelly had both made it clear the government had outlawed any extension of the process of selection in 1997. If people wanted clarification on that issue we had said we were prepared to look at that.

Put to the PMOS that there was a difference in philosophy now as the Prime Minister had stated that he would stick to the proposals set out on the White paper, namely the role for local authorities, the PMOS said that was grossly simplified. The white paper had talked about a strategic role for local authorities, as had the select committee report. The select committee had also supported the idea of independent trust schools allowing the flexibility to identify and develop their own individual ethos. The debate should be on sure ground not on ground that was misconceived.

Asked, if a trust school decided to expand at the expense of other schools, how important it was that the decision and any objections be judged by the adjudicator and not by the local authority and whether this was being discussed, the PMOS said he had seen no suggestion that it should be anyone other that the schools adjudicator. In fact the white paper suggested that the guidance given by the adjudicator be obeyed for three years and not the current limit of one year. The white paper had already suggested a beefing up of the adjudicator role. In response to the suggestion that a key sticking point was about appointment to the Governors Board in trust schools, the PMOS said he was not getting into shopping lists, but trust schools would only be created if they were what schools wanted. It was not a case of being forced on schools. It was simply giving them the capability to if that was what they wanted, and believed was necessary to improve their school.

Asked for guidance on publication of the bill, the PMOS reminded journalists that there were two separate things. First was responding to the select committee and the other was the bill, which we had always said would be published some time this month.

Briefing took place at 6:00 | Search for related news

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