Prescott finally backs schools reform - but does it his way

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The Deputy Prime Minister had been the most senior critic of the proposals to date, saying that he feared they would widen the gap between the best and the worst state schools.

But yesterday he agreed that state schools could set up as "trust" schools if they wanted to, but warned that no school should be pressured into cutting its ties with its local council to become a trust. He also agreed to councils having a more "strategic" role, but added a shopping list of powers that role should include.

Mr Prescott said there must be "rules that prevents a return to academic selection, to schools losing touch with their communities; or the poorest and most disadvantaged children being left behind". He added that state schools should not interview parents as part of their selection procedure; but one of the schools where they are held is the London Oratory, where Mr Blair's children were educated.

He also called for a strengthening of admissions forums, the bodies made up of councillors, teachers and others which ensure that schools' procedures to choose pupils are fair.

Even this conditional endorsement from the Deputy Prime Minister will come as a relief to the Prime Minister. More than 90 Labour MPs are opposed to some of the proposals in December's White Paper, on which the Bill, to be introduced later this month, will be based. Mr Prescott said last year he was unhappy with the Education White Paper, claiming the problem with good schools was "everyone wants to go there".