Welsh Assembly rejects Blair's blueprint for education shake-up

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair's blueprint for a shake-up of secondary schools is rejected today in a White Paper on education published by the Welsh Assembly.

The document, released hours before the Government issues its own White Paper on education in England, criticises two planks of the Blair plan: specialist secondary schools and commercial takeovers of state schools. It also considers measures for cutting down on the testing regime faced by schoolchildren, saying national curriculum tests for seven-year-olds could be scrapped. The limit of 30 pupils per class for five to seven-year-olds, the main pledge in Labour's first election victory, is to be extended to seven to eleven-year-olds.

Both countries are presenting White Papers on education to pave the way for joint legislation this autumn. A key feature will be enabling legislation to allow more private-sector involvement in the running of state schools. The Welsh White Paper reserves the right to ignore the powers.

Jane Davidson, the Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning in Wales, said: "We shall take our own policy direction where necessary to get the best for Wales ... In a small country, with so many distinctive features and circumstances, there would be real risks in a wholesale shift to extensive and untested measures delivered solely through the private or other sectors without careful consideration."

The thrust of the Welsh document means that Wales and England will have increasingly divergent systems in future.

Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's official spokesman, described the Blair proposals as the end of the "bog-standard" comprehensive when they were first mooted in a Green Paper published earlier this year. The Welsh White Paper comes out unequivocally in favour of a fully comprehensive system. It says there could be a role for the private sector in public-private partnerships to build new premises but shuns the idea of commercial companies taking over the running of schools.

Today's English White Paper will propose allowing every school the right to seek specialist school status. Those who cannot convince ministers of their ability to raise standards and those on the hit-list of failing schools held by Ofsted, the Government's education standards watchdog, will be turned down.

Ministers in England argue that the specialist schools that have been created are achieving better exam results than their non-specialist neighbours.

The Welsh White Paper says there are proportionally fewer schools that have failed inspections in the country (eight as opposed to 778) and proportionally fewer with less than 25 per cent of pupils getting at least five top-grade GCSE passes (10 as opposed to 480).