Kelly to defend school reforms

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The Independent Online

The Education Secretary Ruth Kelly will defend her controversial plans for school reforms today.

Ms Kelly will set out what she sees as the practical benefits to schools of the Government's White Paper as she visits a school in Essex that hopes to be one of the first to take up the plans.

Thorpe Bay School in Southend-on-Sea has agreed to work with a local college to become an "independent" trust school as proposed in the White Paper.

The minister will announce further details of the arrangement amid the continuing opposition to the plans from a group of around 100 Labour backbenchers and senior party figures.

Critics of the White Paper - including former Labour leader Lord Kinnock and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott - argue that the new trust schools will have too much freedom and could exclude children from the poorest homes.

A spokesman for the department for Education said: "Our proposals are about building a school system that helps every pupil, including the most deprived.

"Thorpe Bay School has recently come out of special measures under the strong leadership of a forward thinking head teacher."

Now it wants to take "the next steps forward to further improvement", the spokesman said.

Last night, the Government's hopes of reaching a compromise on the White Paper were dented when it emerged that a committee of MPs were split on the issue.

Labour and Conservative members of the Commons education select committee failed to reach agreement after their enquiry into the White Paper proposals.

The Labour dominated committee will issue a report tomorrow (Friday) criticising key elements of the reforms and call for more safeguards to stop schools turning their backs on pupils from poor families.

But Conservative MPs have drawn up their own rival report, backing the Government's plans.

Published in October, the White Paper sets out plans to allow every school in England to become a trust school, which would give them freedom to run their own affairs, own their land and assets, and set their own admissions policies.

Trust schools will be backed by businesses, faith groups and parents organisations, who will have a major say in the way the school is run under the plan.

Critics of the White Paper have warned that giving state schools so much more freedom from local authority control would lead to more academic selection.

Children from the poorest families would miss out as ambitious and educated middle class parents play the system to get their children into the best schools, the opponents argued.

Both Tony Blair and his Education Secretary have dismissed these suggestions and stressed that Labour changed the law to stop any schools from selecting more pupils on their academic ability.

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