Councils lose sole rights in schools Bill

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THE GOVERNMENT last night secured a comfortable 46-vote majority for the formal ending of the role of local education authorities as sole providers of state education. Labour accused John Patten of breaking a partnership that had worked for 40 years and setting himself up as a dictator.

Mr Patten's general duties as Secretary of State for Education are set out in a new clause - 'clause zero' - which was added to the Education Bill by 284 votes to 238 during its Report Stage. Though the wording is declaratory, requiring him to promote the education of the people of England and Wales and use his power to improve standards and increase opportunities for choice, it marks a fundamental change.

Ann Taylor, Labour's education spokesman, said the clause confirmed that Mr Patten wanted a national system of education under his personal political control. He was ending the arrangement established by the 1944 Education Act that the Government was responsible for creating the framework for education and local authorities delivered according to local circumstances and wishes. Mr Patten would now determine the curriculum, the level of funding and the number of teachers, she said.

Earlier, during Question Time exchanges, Eric Forth, Minister of State for Education, drew gasps of surprise when he told the House: 'I do not believe there is any proven connection between class size and quality of education.'

Moving the clause, Mr Patten said the law needed to recognise the transfer of power that had occurred in education. 'Self-government' was at the heart of the Bill.

Recent remarks by Professor Albert Halsey, of Nuffield College, a founder of comprehensive schooling, were called in aid by Mr Patten and John Major. At Question Time, the Prime Minister was asked by a Tory backbencher if he had studied 'the revealing remarks of Professor Halsey in the way schools have been hijacked in the Sixties and Seventies by the trendy lefties'. Mr Major replied: 'I believe that Professor Halsey now speaks for the views of parents whereas certainly he did not in the Sixties. The view of the overwhelming number of parents is that the fashionable theories of the Sixties did immense damage to the quality of education.'

Mr Patten said the professor, who advised Anthony Crosland, a Labour education secretary, now doubted the wisdom of leaving the system in the hands of education professionals. But he was interrupted by Hilary Armstrong (Lab, Durham NW), who pointed to a letter in the Guardian yesterday in which the professor supported comprehensives and attacked 'Conservative privatisation, underfunding and centralised bureaucracy . . . In short, I remain an unrepentant ethical socialist'. Mr Patten did not quote the professor again.

Derek Enright, Labour MP for Hemsworth and a former teacher, described Mr Patten as an heir to the prescriptive traditions of Hitler and Stalin. He also sang some lines of his Latin translation of The Beatles' song 'Yellow Submarine', to demonstrate how an imaginative approach could help pupils understand the subjunctive.

The Bill, intended to get more schools to opt for grant maintained status, is due to complete its Commons stages today. Mr Patten will be adding further 'counter-intimidation measures' to thwart opponents of opt-outs.