Labour claims ideas as its own: The Queen's Speech

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The Independent Online
Labour will support many of the Government's proposals on education on the grounds that it thought of them first, David Blunkett the party's education spokesman indicated last night.

Plans to tighten discipline and to raise standards will largely prove uncontroversial as they pass through Parliament. However, opposition parties will do their best to delay or defeat moves to increase selection, which result from the Prime Minister's call last year for a grammar school in every town.

The proposed Bill will allow grant maintained schools to select up to half their pupils by ability or aptitude without any special permission and will allow local authority schools to select a fifth of their pupils. Local authority schools which want to become grammar schools or to select some of their pupils will have a right of appeal if their councils try to block their plans.

The schools' funding agency will be able to consider selection when it sets up a new school if it wishes but an earlier proposal to require it to do so has been dropped. Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education, will have the power to over-rule plans for selection if they will lead to too little choice for children in an area.

A spokesman for David Blunkett, the shadow education secretary, said a Labour government elected next Spring would not allow new selective schools to be created even if the proposals had become law.

Mr Blunkett described them as "dogmatic distractions" from the business of raising standards. "The Tories' approach over 17 years has reduced social cohesion and made our country the fractured society it is today," he said. "That is why we must concentrate on raising standards and improving discipline rather than on increasing those divisions."

Measures to improve discipline in schools will include giving them the power to put pupils in detention without their parents' consent and forcing every school to draw up a policy on the subject.

There will be measures to deal with a growing crisis over exclusions. Those will include more flexibility for schools on the number of days for which they can temporarily remove a child and more rights for schools to be represented when when parents appeal against exclusions.

Labour claims many of these measures as its own, along with plans for "base-line" testing of five-year-olds, for schools to set targets for improving standards and for wholesale Ofsted inspections of local authorities.

The Opposition will, however, attack plans to allow primary-age children to receive help with private school fees if their parents are on low incomes. Labour wants to abolish the Assisted Places Scheme for secondary schools and to use the money to reduce class sizes in state schools.

Others accused the Government of using the Bill to play politics in the run-up to the election. Its commitment to selection will separate it from the other main parties and highlight Labour embarrassment over the decision of Harriet Harman, the party's social services spokeswoman, to send her son to a selective school.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said the Bill was "all politics and no policy".