Letter: Weaknesses in the White Paper on education

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The Independent Online
Sir: The initial reaction of the Society of Education Officers to yesterday's education White Paper is that it is a very mixed bag indeed. We welcome and support the Government's aim of improving the quality of educational opportunity, but we are concerned that what is proposed will not secure access to a quality educational opportunity for all children.

The society also supports parental choice, but not beyond the point where the exercise of freedom results in a narrowing of opportunity for others. We also welcome the recognition that there is a continuing role for local education authorities, and the enhancement of some of their responsibilities, but are very concerned that the White Paper clearly sets out the framework for a substantial reduction in the role of a local and democratically accountable responsible body over a period of time.

The society is also concerned that the White Paper may represent a charter for middle-class parents and middle-class areas of town and country. These parents know what they want and will know how to act as consumers. Many families and schools are much less well positioned to operate within a free market.

The Education Reform Act 1988 emphasises children's entitlements to a broad and balanced curriculum. These entitlements cannot be provided by an unregulated market. The system will fail children caught in schools with dwindling numbers arising from the operation of market forces. At first sight the proposals for the regulation of the supply of school places, including those related to provision for children with special educational needs, appear to be both complex and centralist.

The notion that failing inner- city schools can be turned round by a centrally appointed Education Association ignores the real needs of these schools: first-class leadership, a stable, experienced and well-trained group of staff able to develop and sustain a good working relationship with the community; and decent buildings. If the Government is serious in its intentions, it needs to consider how it can help to create these essential ingredients for all schools. The fact that the White Paper promises no new money is particularly worrying.

The White Paper seems set on the establishment of a new tier of bureaucracy without fully acknowledging the contribution that has and can be made by accessible and accountable local education authorities with detailed knowledge of local circumstances.

The society is also critical of the way in which what has been heralded as a blueprint for the organisation and funding of the public education service for the next 25 years has been published part way into the school holidays with a deadline for comment before the end of September.

Yours faithfully,

CHRISTOPHER FARMER

Vice-President

Society of Education Officers

Coventry

29 July

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