Minister stands firm over education shake-up

Author: By Martha Linden and Alison Kershaw, Press Association

Mr Balls admitted that “tough decisions” would have to be made to get value
for money but insisted the Government was committed to introducing the
reforms.

“What I am saying today is, to parents, I want you to know that whether your
child is academic, wants to go to university, (is) more practical, might
want to get an apprenticeship, we will make sure that the schools give you
choices, qualifications, so your child can succeed and do well,” he told
GMTV.

“If your child starts to fall behind, we should step in straight away and give
one-to-one or small group tuition.”

His remarks were made as he was due to set out the Government’s new education
reforms, designed to drive up standards and reduce Westminster’s control
over schools.

The Education White Paper is expected to confirm that the Government is
abandoning its National Strategies – a flagship of Labour’s education policy
under Tony Blair – which will end centralised prescription of teaching
methods and oversight of literacy and numeracy hours in primary schools.

And it will contain details of the new US-style “report card” – which will see
every school ranked on a number of measures, including behaviour, attendance
and take-up of sport, as well as academic performance – and given a final
overall grade.

The Government is also expected to announce plans for stronger powers for
schools to ask for the imposition of parenting orders, which could mean
families being forced to attend classes to learn how to control their
offspring.

If parents still fail to keep children in line, they would face a £1,000 fine
– and a jail sentence if they do not pay.

Mr Balls told GMTV: “It can be tough sometimes for parents when schools take a
tough approach, but I think it works and it is what parents want.

“They want to know their kids are going to learn and a small minority just
messing it up for everybody else is not acceptable.

“I will set out today – I will strength the law, to give parents the right to
ensure their kids are learning and schools the power to stop parents not
taking their responsibilities seriously.”

The wide-ranging document will further unveil plans to strengthen discipline
in schools and will also set out plans to make weak schools merge with good
schools to create “chains” under the authority of one headteacher.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families confirmed last week that the
White Paper will set out a new approach to provide more “tailored” support
to schools, based on their individual needs and circumstances.

Moves to scrap National Strategies have been welcomed by teaching unions who
say it shows that ministers now recognise that teachers can be trusted to
deliver the curriculum and make professional judgments about what, and how,
to teach.

Speaking last week, Mr Balls said that reforms to make schools merge were
aimed at improving standards and cutting costs.

He said he wanted to see schools with a shared “brand, ethos and identity”.

Good state schools which refuse to take part in mergers will be given lower
Ofsted ratings, Mr Balls said.

Headteachers who take on a “chain” will be able to be paid up to 20 per cent
above the top rate for heads – almost £200,000 in total.

Universities, existing academy groups and private schools have already
expressed an interest in running a chain, the DCSF said today.

The White Paper will also set out “pupil and parent guarantees” – a set of
entitlements for every child during their school career, and a description
of what every parent should expect their child to receive.

These includes:

* One-to-one tuition for those falling behind;

* A personal tutor to act as a single point of contact at secondary school;

* An entitlement to five hours of sport and week inside and outside of school.

Setting out his draft legislative programme yesterday, ahead of the White
Paper, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: “I want all our children to have
opportunities that are available today only to those who can pay for them in
private education.

“It is right that personal tutoring should be extended to all who need it, so
there will be a new guarantee for parents of: a personal tutor for every
pupil at secondary school and catch-up tuition, including one-to-one, for
those who need it.”

Mr Balls rejected claims that he could not guarantee funding for his plans,
after Business Secretary Lord Mandelson suggested yesterday that the
Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review would be postponed until after
the General Election.

The Schools Secretary said the plans set out in the White Paper were all
funded.

He said the UK’s better-than-expected recovery from economic crisis had
allowed him to draw on £400 million which had been set aside to support the
Private Finance Initiative in case private companies were unwilling to put
investment in.

Some £200 million of the money will go to schools, while the remaining £200
million will be transferred to the Department of Communities and Local
Government as a contribution towards plans unveiled yesterday for the
construction of an additional 20,000 social houses.

Mr Balls also denied recent reports that economic problems would force the
ditching of the Government’s Building Schools For The Future programme to
rebuild and refurbish schools, insisting that he will announce within weeks
that it is to carry on in the years to come.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “I’m going to set out today plans
which are fully afforded in this Spending Review period – this year and the
next year – and it is for the Chancellor to set out economic forecasts for
spending in the future.

“We had a Comprehensive Spending Review in 2004 and then 2007. On that basis,
the next one would be in 2010.”

He said he had already identified £650 million of savings which allowed him to
fund sixth-form provision promised by the Government, and was now able to
reallocate a further £400 million which had been held in reserve in case
private-sector partners did not want to get involved in PFI schemes.

“Because of the action we have taken with the recovery, the economy is
stronger than people thought and the PFI market is working and, of that £400
million, I can spend more on school places for the next two years and make a
contribution to social housing.

“I think I can contribute £200 million and also have £200 million more to
spend on schools in 2009/10 and 2010/11.”

He said work had started at the weekend on hiring 100,000 tutors for schools.

Asked whether the school-building programme would continue, Mr Balls said: “I
can guarantee – and will announce in the next few weeks – our Building
Schools For The Future plans will carry on in future years.”

He said spending plans for schools would be an important battle line with the
Conservatives in the upcoming General Election.

“David Cameron is not letting (shadow education secretary) Michael Gove match
me because he wants a different switch, not from education to social housing
but from education to an inheritance tax cut which will go to the 300,000
richest estates in the country,” he said.

“I think that would lead to a weaker society. I think it would lead to more
public unrest and it would also lead to higher debt, lower growth and more
unemployment. That’s the political choice.”

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