Kelly told to redraw 'badly written' education plans

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Indy Politics

Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Education, said of her White Paper: "It is an extraordinarily poorly written piece of work. If I was still a university lecturer and you were a student, I would say there is some good stuff here - but go away and give it more shape and form."

In a sideswipe at the Department for Education and Skills and Downing Street, he said that "too many cooks" had been involved in drafting the document, which has led to a rift in the Cabinet. The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, had claimed the plans would lead to the return of a two-tier education system with the introduction of independent "trust" schools which responsible for their own admissions policies.

Ms Kelly, who with the Schools minister, Jacqui Smith, was giving evidence on the reforms to the select committee, conceded: "I admit that the system is quite difficult to explain."

However she rejected the criticism by Mr Prescott and other Labour MPs that it would lead to more selection. She said of his comments: "I don't agree with them. I think this is a good set of proposals that will help the most disadvantaged pupils in the most disadvantaged areas."

Far from increasing selection, they would help to get rid of selection by stealth. "We outlawed once and for all any new selection by ability in 1998," she said. "There is no way in which that can be introduced through these current proposals."

Instead, by insisting that schools give top priority to children in care in admissions policies and that any ruling by the Schools' Adjudicator - the "admissions tsar" - on selection policies should be binding on schools for three years instead of just one as at present, the proposals would reduce the chance of schools selecting by stealth through interviewing parents.

Ms Kelly sought to downplay the significance of the new trust schools in her evidence to the committee.

Tony Blair had said in a speech prior to the publication of the White Paper that they heralded one of the most radical changes to the education system since the introduction of comprehensive schools by creating a new breed of independently run state financed schools.

However, Ms Kelly said the reforms - which also include giving teachers the legal right to discipline their pupils for the first time - did not depend on schools opting for trust status.

She added that there would be no attempt to "coerce or bribe" schools into opting for trust status, under which they would be freed from council control and operate with private partners which could include universities, faith groups or private companies. They would have the same powers as existing foundation schools, which had also been freed from council control and given powers to set up their own governing bodies.

However, Mr Sheerman said that the White Paper's proposals were "not very clear to most people" and had been "a communications' failure".

"Uniquely, no one quite knows what they're left with in terms of their powers and responsibilities," he said.