There is no doubt that the rebel MPs who threatened to vote against the Government's flagship schools' legislation have won significant concessions from ministers in this week's Bill. As a result, the legislation is stronger than it would have been otherwise, and is likely to be more effective in combating covert selection by schools. The Government has introduced a ban on schools interviewing parents during the admissions process, which is welcome, but only a handful of schools do so at the moment. All schools will, however, have to act in accordance with a new national code on admissions that will include a strict ban on any more selection.
At present, they merely have to have regard to an admissions code.
Despite all this, there are still signs that there will be a significant number of Labour MPs rebelling, leaving Tony Blair with the unedifying prospect (for him) of relying on support from the Conservatives to get his proposals through. One of the main remaining stumbling blocks is the circumstances in which councils can open new community comprehensive schools. The original White Paper banned them, saying that all new schools would have to be independently run "trusts" or foundation schools. Mr Blair was persuaded by the argument that - as the legislation is supposed to be about increasing parental choice - parents should be able to have a new community comprehensive school if that is what they want.
But the Bill still leaves the Education Secretary with the power to veto such a proposal. Ruth Kelly has said that she would be extremely unlikely to use that power if a local authority with a good track record came up with a coherent plan. But there remains a question mark over the extent to which she would use her veto.
Although ministers have denied that there will be any more concessions, it is possible that there may be further "clarification" of this issue as the Bill goes through Parliament. In any case, it does not seem to be a significant enough difference of opinion to justify MPs voting against a Bill that contains other uncontroversial measures, such as enshrining in law for the first time the right of teachers to discipline pupils. We would therefore urge MPs to vote for the Bill at Second Reading. Any further differences of opinion can be sorted out at the committee stage.Reuse content