Education chief to resign over school reforms

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The Independent Online
THE CHIEF education officer of Birmingham has decided to resign because he believes the Government's White Paper heralds years of uncertainty and confusion for schools.

David Hammond, 51, said that he, like other chief education officers, had spent the past three weeks studying Choice and Diversity, the 30,000-word set of policy proposals which ministers hope will provide the map for the next 25 years of education reform.

He concluded that 'the White Paper is neither a clear strategic statement of the Government's vision of the education service for the future, nor is it a clear rejection of the past'. Instead, 'what we are offered is something which the Government calls 'evolution', but which I believe is really going to be a divisive and protracted series of confusions'.

Mr Hammond added: 'The White Paper is really talking about withering and dithering.'

John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, is on holiday, but he is hardly likely to feel dismay. When the White Paper was launched he described Birmingham - England's largest education authority - as the worst in the country and attacked the Labour group's willingness to spend pounds 50m less on schools than the Government believes it should.

Ministers say in the White Paper that they would like all schools to opt out of local authority control eventually, but they leave it to parental ballots at each individual school to decide.

Schools which opt out will be funded directly by a national Funding Agency - but many may opt to stay with the local authority. If schools are deemed by inspectors to be failing, the local authority will be expected to try and turn them around - but if that fails, they may then be taken over by Education Associations.

Mr Hammond said: 'We may face a situation in which, in some local authority areas, we have the Funding Agency, Education Associations, and the local authority, all maintaining schools. I have to ask myself, having served for nearly 20 years with the local education authority, whether I want to be part of that.'

He has told the council that he will stay on to carry out a review of the White Paper's implications for the city, but he will not renew his contract next March.

'I have been maintaining a system which, for all its achievements and failures, has at least been subject to a local democratic process. People can hold my chairman, or even me, to account. That will go.

'But, even if I thought that a nationalised education service was a good thing, I cannot see that it has been spelt out clearly in the White Paper. I can actually conceive of it being possible to have a 'small is beautiful' approach, with little communities of schools running themselves according to parental opinion. But I don't actually get that.'

There were aspects of the White Paper which he found encouraging: the Government's decision to strengthen support for children with special education, for example. But ministers had apparently decided that everything which did not fit in easily with community-run schooling - tackling truancy, for example - would be left with the local authority.