Leading article: The law of the classroom

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The Independent Online

Like Monday's general Government policy package, the thrust of yesterday's education White Paper was welcome. It is surely right that a state school pupil should be guaranteed "relevant and challenging" learning in all subjects and access to a personal tutor if he or she is struggling to keep up in maths and English.

Surely, too, it is right that, if schools draw up home school contracts with parents and pupils guaranteeing good behaviour and attendance, they should be legally enforceable. Otherwise, what is the point of them?

Headteachers have expressed concerns that these legally enforceable guarantees could result in a flood of court actions from disgruntled parents blaming the schools for what could be shortcomings in their own offspring. The Government is trying to avoid this by suggesting that the Local Government Ombudsman should adjudicate on complaints in the first place but the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, has acknowledged that the proposals could lead to an increase in demands for judicial review.

The Government needs to careful when drafting the final wording of the guarantees to be specific in what it is seeking to achieve. The guarantee that seems most difficult to define at the moment is the suggestion that every child has the right to be taught in a "healthy" school.

Similarly, if there are incompetent teachers in the classroom and existing measures are not robust enough to get rid of them, this is, as Mr Balls puts it, "something we have to address". Whether the introduction of a five-yearly licence to teach for all teachers is the right way to do so, rather than a more strictly enforced and regular assessment system, is open to debate. It is encouraging that Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, backs the proposal on the grounds that it could enhance the status of the profession. But one thing teachers do not need is more red tape.

Mr Balls deserves some credit for identifying important issues of teacher accountability and parental rights. As to whether his proposals will adequately address them, however, the jury remains out.

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