Kelly to defend school reforms as objections mount

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The Independent Online

The Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly, will today stake her political future on a robust defence of the Government's school reforms.

In the first speech by a government minister in 2006, she will insist the proposed new independently-run "trust schools" will help struggling children in deprived areas.

She will also make it clear to a conference of local authority leaders in Gateshead that there will be no going back on Tony Blair's plans.

Ms Kelly will publish a prospectus for the first time showing how "trust schools" will work. They will form partnerships with business foundations, charities or universities to help run the schools.

It has become clear that she was facing mounting hostility to the proposals. In an almost unprecedented bout of unity, leading figures in all three main political parties voiced opposition to the plans.

Alison King, the Conservative who chairs the Local Government Association's children's committee, said she was concerned about the effect the proposals would have on school admissions policies. The "trust schools" would be allowed to draw up their own admissions policies.

"We think that the Government should concentrate on making every school a good school," she said. "If we're not careful, we'll have selection by schools rather than selection of schools by parents."

Ms Kelly's defiant speech comes as a Mori survey reveals that opposition to the Education White Paper proposals has grown among teachers over the past year.

The findings will make worrying reading for ministers, who are preparing to mount a renewed defence of the plans, which have been opposed by Labour backbenchers, headteachers and unions.

More than half of secondary school teachers in England and Wales (53 per cent) oppose the creation of city academies to raise standards in deprived areas, according to the poll of secondary school teachers commissioned by the Sutton Trust.

This is an increase from the 37 per cent who gave this response to an identical question in last year's Mori poll commissioned by the trust, which was set up in 1997 by Sir Peter Lampl, to help children from a deprived background.

Only 26 per cent of teachers agreed with the Government's approach, down from 36 per cent in 2004.

Barry Sheerman, the chairman of the Education and Skills Select Committee, said: "As a practical matter, school teachers have to implement the proposals contained in the White Paper and the Government should be concerned that the number of teachers who are against school choice and city academies, two key proposals, outnumber those in favour by a factor of 2:1."

Sir Peter, the Sutton Trust's chairman, said teachers had become increasingly opposed to city academies because of concerns about costs and the involvement of corporate sponsors.

"I think teachers have become negative about academies because of their very high costs and concerns about sponsors who have little experience of managing educational establishments," he said.

The poll also revealed that teachers feel considerable doubt about extending greater school choice to parents. Sixty per cent of teachers did not think that school choice is a reality for most parents.

The Mori Teachers' Omnibus survey covered a representative sample of 477 secondary school teachers in maintained schools in England and Wales.