Clarke reforms signal end to comprehensives
Schools news
Polly Curtis
Thursday July 8, 2004


The government today promised a radical and rapid overhaul of the education system, to provide every parent and pupil with a cast-iron guarantee of a good school.

The announcement, which the education secretary, Charles Clarke, compared in importance to the 1944 Butler Act, signalled an end to the comprehensive schools system and the introduction of new "independent specialists".

In an ambitious routemap to turn around failing secondary schools by 2010, Mr Clarke announced reforms ranging from the introduction of a schools uniform and health system for all schools, to a massive expansion in freedoms for all schools to set their own budgets.

Mr Clarke announced the proposals to the House of Commons, saying: "the dividing lines for the future of children and schools are clear. Whether we select a few, or raise standards for all. Whether there is no role for local authorities, or a new role for local authorities. Whether we take funding out of public services, or put it in.

"Whether there is freedom for all, or a free-for-all. Whether some children matter, or whether every child matters."

Earlier, Mr Clarke defended plans to decrease the current role of local education authorities (LEAs) during a Q&A session with journalists, calling current funding systems whereby LEAs have to pass forth funds for schools "ramshackled".

He pledged three-year direct funding for schools, saying: "There are a lot of people in government who have said 'let the LEAs get on with it'. In my experience, that doesn't work. I feel accountable, and David [Miliband, the schools minister] feels accountable for what goes on in schools up and down the country."

Much of the document published today and highlighted Mr Clarke's his speech to the Commons is not new. It ties together Department for Education and Skills (DfES) programmes of reform, ranging from the introduction of top-up fees in universities to early years provision.

Mr Clarke promised a guarantee of a better and more interesting curriculum for pupils and another guarantee to parents to provide more places at popular schools.

The newest aspect of today's announcement was the plan to tackle underachievement in the lower-performing secondary schools.

Other aspects in the announcement included:
giving headteachers the power to set budget, pay and pupil selection under a national framework;
to allow all schools to become specialist schools using one subject area to drive up standards across the curriculum, should they meet the criteria;
to allow all schools the chance to become foundation schools so that where they qualify, they earn more freedom from the government;
to establish a network of foundation schools to help share resources;
to establish 200 new city academies to replace the most struggling schools.

Previously untrailed plans to expect every school to adopt a school uniform and a health system formed the centrepiece of plans to tackle bad behaviour.

Asked whether he would force schools to take up the proposals, Mr Clarke said: "We will not compel schools to introduce uniforms and a health system. We will send a very strong message to them in this document."

He added that consultations with schools and head teachers had proved that there was strong support for both proposals.

A new policy on behaviour will be launched later in the year.

Mr Clarke also hit out at Tory plans to allow parents to pay for cut-rate private schools with public money, saying: "Should we be putting public money into private schools or into the failing schools? It's clear to me which is right."

Full text
07.07.2004: Tony Blair's speech to the Fabian Society

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