Prime Minister Blair yesterday announced plans for a ‘system of independent, self-governing state schools’, and an education ‘market based on choice’, with changes being ‘irreversible’.
In a speech given to a selected audience at Downing Street, Blair said today’s White Paper on education ‘marks a pivotal moment in the life of this parliament and this government’.
Saying his speech was to put this in ‘the context of public sector reform’, he announced that he will ‘complete the reforms we began so that in time we have a system of independent, self-governing state schools’.
Blair claimed that specialist schools ‘have now consistently outperformed traditional comprehensives’ and City Academies ‘are immensely promising.’
He added: ‘We are now at the crucial point where the reforms can be taken to their final stage.’
After praising ‘patient choice’ in the NHS, ‘independent’ treatment centres and foundation hospitals, he said schools ‘will finally be opened up to real parent power’.
He said: ‘All schools will be able to have Academy style freedoms. All schools will be able to take on external partners.
‘No one will be able to veto parents starting new schools or new providers coming in, simply on the basis that there are local surplus places.
‘The role of the LEA will change fundamentally.’
He declared: ‘In both the NHS and in education, there will in one sense be a market.’
He hastily qualified this saying ‘it will be a market with rules.’
He said: ‘Where parents are dissatisfied, they need a range of good schools to choose from; or where there is no such choice, able to take the remedy into their own hands.
‘Where business, the voluntary sector, philanthropy, which in every other field is an increasing part of our national life, wants to play a key role in education and schools want them to, they can.
‘Where local employers feel local schools aren’t meeting local skill needs, they can get involved.’
He added: ‘Within two years, virtually every secondary school will be a specialist school.
‘We will have at least 200 Academies by 2010, with new opportunities to develop them wherever they can make a big difference.’
In a move to open up state schools to take-overs by private schools, he revealed plans for ‘Academies, as a legal model for independent state schools, could apply elsewhere, for example enabling independent schools to come into the state system on an agreed basis.’
Steve Sinnott, NUT General Secretary, said: ‘The government’s proposals will lead to chaos in admissions and planning gridlock. Its obsession with choice ignores the fact that parents operate on a far from level playing field.
‘It is pandering to the pushy middle classes at the expense of children in less advantaged circumstances.’
Sinnott added: ‘What parents want is high quality education from their local school.
‘The idea that the Government is promoting new freedoms for schools belies the reality of its proposals. Schools will be replacing local authority support with increased central control.’
He said: ‘The idea of employers setting up schools to meet their own perceived skill shortages contradicts the purpose of education and creates a service which is about fitting each child to meet the needs of that employer.’
Sinnott concluded: ‘A period of calm would be more welcome in our schools than yet another period of change.’