» Thursday, February 9, 2006


The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) gave the journalists a preview of what the Prime Minister intended to say at the Education seminar today. He would say: "Today’s seminar shows the growing interest in Trust schools from a range of schools and potential sponsors such as Microsoft, KPMG and BT. We know that schools that have a distinctive ethos do better, that was why we want schools to be free to set up trusts if they wish to. Trust schools bring together the freedoms of Foundations with the governance of voluntary aided schools, harnessing the enthusing of external partners we have already seen with specialist schools and Academies. Trust schools can address failing and underperforming schools in new ways, that will benefit the most disadvantaged in society."

The PMOS said that there had also been a wide-ranging discussion on education at Cabinet this morning. Ruth Kelly had done a presentation and had said that the more we allowed schools to innovate, the more they improved, the more they added value, especially in deprived areas. The Prime Minister talked of the enormous energy which could be mobilised from the community as a whole in support of developing our schools. The PMOS said that what struck him most about the discussion was how united the Cabinet was in pushing forward the Education White Paper in advance of the Bill, recognising the safeguards which had been outlined by Ruth Kelly in her letter to Barry Sheerman, but moving on to making the arguments for the Bill when it was published.

Asked what he said to those sceptics who had described this as asset-stripping of schools, the PMOS said that if you looked at what had actually happened in Specialist schools up and down the country which had involved external partners, you now saw that rather than asset stripping, what we were adding was real value. If you looked at what was the biggest asset of any school, which was the quality of education that went to the pupils, the added value that specialist schools were giving, particularly in deprived areas, was the real asset that was being added. John Prescott said at Cabinet today that while you had to recognise the vast improvement that had taken place in education, the status quo simply wasn’t acceptable because of the percentage of schools that continued to fail.

Asked if the Government was confident of support for the Bill from within the Labour party, the PMOS said that he didn’t wish to get into party matters, suffice to say that the general view around the Cabinet table was that the more the argument was made, the more the facts were studied about what actually was the experience in specialist schools, and the more people recognised that the status quo wasn’t an option, the more people would see merits of what was being proposed.

Asked what the benefits were for private companies in getting involved with schools, the PMOS said that they would benefit from being part of the community in which they were getting a workforce with the necessary skills. If you spoke to the CBI or any of the business organisations, they were saying that, given the pressures of globalisation, what they needed was a more skilled work force, rather than a less skilled workforce. That was partly why the status quo was not an option. The days when you could have large numbers of unskilled and uneducated people were gone.

Asked if these organisations would have any influence over the curriculum, the PMOS said that the best people to decide the curriculum were the schools. As the Prime Minister had said, this was about giving schools the freedom over assets, freedom over staff and freedom to develop a distinct ethos because the experience over the last few years had shown that that was what worked.

Put to him that a cynic might say that a group including Microsoft, KPMG and BT was a roll-call of crony companies which had all sorts of contact with the Government and might be doing this for less than altruistic reasons, the PMOS said that a more objective assessment was that these were some of the more successful companies in Britain and we would be a lot poorer without them.

Briefing took place at 9:00 | Search for related news

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