Shaping the Education Bill – the alternative schools White Paper

14 December 2005


Waht I have been advocating thus far has been that the US evidence shows that reforms based on greater choice for parents have benefited the children of poorer black and Hispanic parents most of all. This is congruent with my visionary paper to ODPM (5 Dec 2004) on Equality, Diversity, Social inclusion, social capital, social mobility, social trust leading to social glue leading to community cohesion and to Sustainable Communities.


Reform response to the alternative schools White Paper, Shaping the Education Bill: Reaching for Consensus


§         A group of Labour MPs, including the former Education Secretary Estelle Morris, the former Ministers John Denham and Nick Raynsford and the former PPS Martin Salter, have today published an alternative to the Government’s recent education White Paper Higher Standards, Better Schools For All


§         The document makes a series of inaccurate claims about:


          The consequences of the reform policies of choice and school autonomy; and

          The actual proposals in the White Paper itself.


§         In particular:


          International evidence shows that allowing new schools to open and popular schools to expand has improved standards in deprived areas.  It has created a new and powerful incentive to improve for weaker schools.


          Charter Schools in America – the model for the proposed “Trust school” – have out-performed normal schools and benefited minority groups most of all.


          The White Paper does not give parents the right to create schools freely.  In fact it leaves the system of local authority planning intact and even strengthens the roles of LEAs in some respects, for example over school inspection.


          The White Paper does not give schools full freedom over admissions policies.  In fact it leaves the existing regulations in place: all schools must “have regard” to the Department for Education and Skills’ School Admissions Code of Practice which has provisions for all aspects of school admissions, especially rules for admissions in over-subscribed schools.  It remains impossible for any non-selective school to become selective (under the 1998 Schools Standards and Framework Act).


§         70 per cent of the MPs signing the Alternative White Paper represent constituencies which have educational performance below the national average.  It is extraordinary that they should be arguing against change.


§         The authors argue against change in the name of poorer families but it is these families which endure the lowest standards in the current system.  US evidence shows that reforms based on greater choice for parents have benefited the children of poorer black and Hispanic parents most of all.  The most active US campaigners for greater parental choice are the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options.


§         The Government’s White Paper is actually far less reform-minded than today’s group are suggesting.  Any further watering-down of its proposals will simply leave the status quo unchanged, at great detriment to poorer families in particular.


Shaping the Education Bill: Reaching for Consensus




§         “Pupils from poorer areas will be disadvantaged as popular schools expand” … poor schools will “contract and close”.




§         International evidence shows that pupils in poorer areas will benefit because the introduction of choice has made weak schools improve. 


§         The key example is Florida where, since 1999, parents have been given vouchers to choose other schools if their children attend schools which have achieved the lowest standards of performance in two of any four years.  Schools achieving the lowest level of performance have shown the greatest level of improvement.  The vast majority of students given vouchers were black and Hispanic (West, Martin R. and Peterson, Paul E., The Efficacy of School Choice Threats Within School Accountably Systems, Harvard University, March 2005; Greene, Jay P., An Evaluation of the Florida A-Plus Accountability and School Choice Programme, February 2001).


§         The ability of good schools to expand and new schools to open is the precondition for raising standards.  It allows more pupils to attend schools achieving higher standards and it gives less popular schools a clear incentive to raise standards.




§         “[White Paper plans for Trust schools are based on]… proposals from the Charter Schools experiment in the USA, which has been shown to fail the poorer and more vulnerable families”.




§         A series of academic papers have identified benefits from school choice programmes to individual students and to public schools as a whole.  For example, research by the National Bureau of Economic Research and Harvard University has found that charter schools raise standards in reading and mathematics compared to other schools, and are especially likely to raise the achievement of students who are poor or Hispanic (Source: Hoxby, Caroline M., Achievement in Charter Schools and Regular Public Schools in the United States, December 2004).




§         “The White Paper proposes that parents should be able unilaterally to form schools, obtain funding and require the Local Education Authority to provide land.”




§         The White Paper does not give parents freedom to establish new schools.  The only advance is the proposal that local authorities must be “responsive” to parental demands for a new school in the existing planning process: “We will give parents the right to ask for a new primary or secondary school.  They may do so in order to improve standards of local education, to meet a lack of faith provision, to tackle entrenched inequalities or to promote innovative teaching methods.  Local authorities will be under a duty to be responsive to parental interests.  Where these demands have support, they will be expected to provide dedicated consultancy support to help parents develop a concrete proposal” (Higher Standards, Better Schools For All, DfES, 2005, p.29).




§         “The White Paper envisages popular schools being free to expand with little or no regulation or any limits on size.




§         The White Paper is clear that the organisation of school places remains the responsibility of local authorities:  “Local authorities will need to plan how many schools their local area needs, where and how big they need to be, what kind of schools will serve the area best, and who the schools should serve.  Local authorities will draw on their analysis of parental demand and their consultation with local partners to draw up a strategic plan for the pattern of schools in their area, as part of their Children and Young People’s Plan” (Higher Standards, Better Schools For All, DfES, 2005, p.106).




§         [The White Paper will allow] “wealthier and better informed parents … to set up their own schools operating their own admissions policies.




§         The White Paper leaves nearly all of the current controls over admissions in place.  In particular:


          All schools must “have regard” to the Code of Practice on Admissions, which the Secretary of State has a statutory responsibility to produce.  The Code has provisions for all aspects of school admissions, especially rules for admissions in over-subscribed schools.


          It is impossible for any non-selective school to become selective, under the 1998 Schools Standards and Framework Act.


          It is next to impossible for any non-faith school to become faith school.  The school must actually close and then issue plans to reopen as a faith school.


§         The only difference is that the new Trust schools would become their own admissions authorities, taking that responsibility from their LEA.  They would gain very minor freedoms, such as the right to give priority to siblings of existing pupils if they are over-subscribed.



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