Right of Reply

The Liberal Democrats' spokesman on education responds to our leading article
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The Independent Culture
THE INDEPENDENT'S applause for Paddy Ashdown's "advocacy of our rights as citizens rather than subjects" is welcome. But it is very difficult to square it with your reaction to our Policy Review Commission's conclusions on school structures.

The need for change is clear. With one in nine pupils leaving school with no formal qualification, the education service is failing the nation. There's confusion about who is responsible for what. Most school governors, for example, cannot say for what, to whom and by what means they are accountable. And despite good intentions over many years, we've failed to make our schools a true community resource.

Part of our policy proposals to resolve such problems leaves strategic aspects of education policy, including admissions and entitlements, in the hands of elected Local Education Authorities (LEAs) operating within a framework laid down by parliament. However, it also proposes that local groups should be able to run individual schools or clusters of schools under contract with their LEAs. Groups who wish to form what would be called a Neighbourhood Schools Trust would be expected to demonstrate their ability to deliver the contract and involve the community they are to serve.

To describe this policy as a "well meaning [attempt] at local democracy" may be condescending but it is broadly accurate. To argue that it amounts to no more than a "charter for social misfits and busybodies" is bizarre.

As Gladstone said, "Liberalism is the trust of the people tempered by prudence." To criticise our proposals on education while urging "genuine Liberalism" upon us is to hit both the brake and the accelerator at the same time.

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