A White Paper that ups the ante

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The Independent Online

It will be back to school with a vengeance when the new term starts next week – not only for the pupils and the teachers but on the national education scene, too.

It will be back to school with a vengeance when the new term starts next week – not only for the pupils and the teachers but on the national education scene, too.

The Government's much-vaunted – and delayed – White Paper on education is scheduled for publication early in September. It will be followed by a review of the way that Ofsted, the Government's education standards watchdog, carries out school inspections. The White Paper was originally due out at the end of the summer term but – amid claims that there was a dispute over New Labour's commitment to more private-sector involvement in the running of state schools – it was shelved.

The key themes will be the same, however:

* More private involvement in school management.

* An increase in the number of specialist secondary schools.

* More emphasis on vocational education for a growing number of 14- to 16-year-olds. They will be allowed up to two days off school a week to go on work experience or to college.

* An increase in the number of state schools.

* Shaking up the curriculum for the first few years of secondary education with more emphasis on raising the literacy and numeracy standards of those who fall behind in class.

The biggest controversy will be over the involvement of the private sector. However, the impact is likely to be less than that of some other elements of the package. Estelle Morris, the secretary of state for education and skills, has always said she favours a "whatever works" solution to the running of the education system. She argues that an institution can either be turned round by private-sector involvement or dynamic input by those already involved in the state sector.

It is the expansion in specialist secondary schools that may well have a bigger impact. Ministers now want specialist status to be the "norm" for the country's 3,500 secondary schools. Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, originally set a target of 1,500 by 2006 but now the Government is upping the ante and aiming for a large majority to become specialist.

Ministers plan to give every secondary school the green light to apply for specialist status. The only grounds for refusal would be failure to convince the Department for Education and Skills that it could meet targets for improved standards. A failing school, too, would not be allowed to apply until it had been removed from the hit list of schools in special measures kept by Ofsted.

The second major announcement of the new term, the review of Ofsted inspections, is likely to be greeted with more enthusiasm at the chalk face. Mike Tomlinson, the chief inspector of schools, has told teachers he wants the nature of inspections to change so that they are "done with you rather than about you".

In teachers' books, that is a far cry from the more authoritarian viewpoint taken by his predecessor, Chris Woodhead. He has also said he wants inspectors to take into account the school's staffing situation in inspections carried out as from this September.

Teachers believe this may give them more ammunition to bring home to the Government what they believe will be the seriousness of the staffing situation come the new term.

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