Leading article: Double-speak does schools no good

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The Independent Online

That the Secretary of State for Education failed to convince her audience of headteachers and local authority leaders about the merits of the Government's planned school reforms yesterday was hardly surprising. Ministers have been trying to eat their cake and have it for far too long. As a result, they have painted a confusing picture about what they seek to achieve.

Take the new "trust" schools for a start. According to the Prime Minister, speaking before the launch of the controversial Schools White Paper, they would create nothing short of a revolution in the way schools are run, setting up a new breed of independently run schools free to determine their own admissions policies. Opposition to this image of the future was rife among Labour backbenchers and, lo and behold, letters were sent to every local authority saying they might have gained the mistaken impression from the media that their powers over schools were to be curtailed. Nothing could be further from the truth, the letter from the Department for Education and Skills went on.

Then again, on popular schools. These would be given the right to expand, with high-quality temporary buildings used to accommodate more pupils until a more permanent solution could be found. Local authority chiefs were enraged, seeing their capacity to plan for the future being eroded. And what happened? In a letter to local Labour parties, the general secretary said that the final decision on school expansion would rest with the local authorities.

The trouble is that ministers have tried to face two ways at once. At least in her speech yesterday Ruth Kelly made clear there would be no retreat from the original plans ­ even though she could not explain why, if the central purpose was to boost parental choice, parents would not be allowed to have a new neighbourhood comprehensive run by the local authority if that was what they wanted.

And she was right about one thing yesterday. With four out of 10 children still leaving school with fewer than five A* to C grade GCSE passes, the need for action is evident, whatever other improvements Labour may have made during its eight years in office. But unless she and the Prime Minister can present a clearer and more convincing picture of what they are hoping to achieve, they will be left with nothing ­ and the Bill set to follow the White Paper will be defeated in the Commons.