Minister stands firm over education shake-up

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The Children's Secretary Ed Balls stood by ambitious new plans for education reforms today, including a legally enforceable right to one-to-one or small group tuition where pupils fall behind in school.

Mr Balls admitted that "tough decisions" would have to be made to get value for money but insisted the Government was committed to introducing the reforms.

"What I am saying today is, to parents, I want you to know that whether your child is academic, wants to go to university, (is) more practical, might want to get an apprenticeship, we will make sure that the schools give you choices, qualifications, so your child can succeed and do well," he told GMTV.

"If your child starts to fall behind, we should step in straight away and give one-to-one or small group tuition."

His remarks were made as he was due to set out the Government's new education reforms, designed to drive up standards and reduce Westminster's control over schools.

The Education White Paper is expected to confirm that the Government is abandoning its National Strategies - a flagship of Labour's education policy under Tony Blair - which will end centralised prescription of teaching methods and oversight of literacy and numeracy hours in primary schools.

And it will contain details of the new US-style "report card" - which will see every school ranked on a number of measures, including behaviour, attendance and take-up of sport, as well as academic performance - and given a final overall grade.

The Government is also expected to announce plans for stronger powers for schools to ask for the imposition of parenting orders, which could mean families being forced to attend classes to learn how to control their offspring.

If parents still fail to keep children in line, they would face a £1,000 fine - and a jail sentence if they do not pay.

Mr Balls told GMTV: "It can be tough sometimes for parents when schools take a tough approach, but I think it works and it is what parents want.

"They want to know their kids are going to learn and a small minority just messing it up for everybody else is not acceptable.

"I will set out today - I will strength the law, to give parents the right to ensure their kids are learning and schools the power to stop parents not taking their responsibilities seriously."

The wide-ranging document will further unveil plans to strengthen discipline in schools and will also set out plans to make weak schools merge with good schools to create "chains" under the authority of one headteacher.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families confirmed last week that the White Paper will set out a new approach to provide more "tailored" support to schools, based on their individual needs and circumstances.

Moves to scrap National Strategies have been welcomed by teaching unions who say it shows that ministers now recognise that teachers can be trusted to deliver the curriculum and make professional judgments about what, and how, to teach.

Speaking last week, Mr Balls said that reforms to make schools merge were aimed at improving standards and cutting costs.

He said he wanted to see schools with a shared "brand, ethos and identity".

Good state schools which refuse to take part in mergers will be given lower Ofsted ratings, Mr Balls said.

Headteachers who take on a "chain" will be able to be paid up to 20 per cent above the top rate for heads - almost £200,000 in total.

Universities, existing academy groups and private schools have already expressed an interest in running a chain, the DCSF said today.

The White Paper will also set out "pupil and parent guarantees" - a set of entitlements for every child during their school career, and a description of what every parent should expect their child to receive.

These includes:

* One-to-one tuition for those falling behind;

* A personal tutor to act as a single point of contact at secondary school;

* An entitlement to five hours of sport and week inside and outside of school.

Setting out his draft legislative programme yesterday, ahead of the White Paper, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "I want all our children to have opportunities that are available today only to those who can pay for them in private education.

"It is right that personal tutoring should be extended to all who need it, so there will be a new guarantee for parents of: a personal tutor for every pupil at secondary school and catch-up tuition, including one-to-one, for those who need it."

Mr Balls rejected claims that he could not guarantee funding for his plans, after Business Secretary Lord Mandelson suggested yesterday that the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review would be postponed until after the General Election.

The Schools Secretary said the plans set out in the White Paper were all funded.

He said the UK's better-than-expected recovery from economic crisis had allowed him to draw on £400 million which had been set aside to support the Private Finance Initiative in case private companies were unwilling to put investment in.

Some £200 million of the money will go to schools, while the remaining £200 million will be transferred to the Department of Communities and Local Government as a contribution towards plans unveiled yesterday for the construction of an additional 20,000 social houses.

Mr Balls also denied recent reports that economic problems would force the ditching of the Government's Building Schools For The Future programme to rebuild and refurbish schools, insisting that he will announce within weeks that it is to carry on in the years to come.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "I'm going to set out today plans which are fully afforded in this Spending Review period - this year and the next year - and it is for the Chancellor to set out economic forecasts for spending in the future.

"We had a Comprehensive Spending Review in 2004 and then 2007. On that basis, the next one would be in 2010."

He said he had already identified £650 million of savings which allowed him to fund sixth-form provision promised by the Government, and was now able to reallocate a further £400 million which had been held in reserve in case private-sector partners did not want to get involved in PFI schemes.

"Because of the action we have taken with the recovery, the economy is stronger than people thought and the PFI market is working and, of that £400 million, I can spend more on school places for the next two years and make a contribution to social housing.

"I think I can contribute £200 million and also have £200 million more to spend on schools in 2009/10 and 2010/11."

He said work had started at the weekend on hiring 100,000 tutors for schools.

Asked whether the school-building programme would continue, Mr Balls said: "I can guarantee - and will announce in the next few weeks - our Building Schools For The Future plans will carry on in future years."

He said spending plans for schools would be an important battle line with the Conservatives in the upcoming General Election.

"David Cameron is not letting (shadow education secretary) Michael Gove match me because he wants a different switch, not from education to social housing but from education to an inheritance tax cut which will go to the 300,000 richest estates in the country," he said.

"I think that would lead to a weaker society. I think it would lead to more public unrest and it would also lead to higher debt, lower growth and more unemployment. That's the political choice."