Some of us still cling desperately to the notion that schooling is about meeting the needs of all our children and young people, broadening their horizons and their opportunities, developing their skills and role as citizens and bringing about a more inclusive society. Given the new schools white paper, it seems we have been misled.

Commentators have long recognised that the provision of schooling in the UK is seen as a relationship between school and parents. It is the parents, not the children, who are viewed as the consumers of the service and who are given rights within legislation and policy. Education secretary Ruth Kelly came clean in parliament when she reassured us that the reforms “will put parents at the heart of the education system”.

Of course we want our children to be able to go to the best school possible, but when it comes to the idea of what constitutes the best school and how to achieve that goal, there are distinct differences between the government and educators. It seems the former is committed to a particular style of school and teaching (let’s call it “traditional”) which it continues to promote and defend; and to a form of governance, which it believes will prevent schools being drawn away from this mould.

But listen to teachers and they say that, with a supportive local education authority behind them, it is what happens inside: small class sizes, inspirational management, good teaching and flexibility to respond to different needs and situations (let’s call it “putting children at the heart of the education system”) that makes a good school.

Some would argue that the education system has failed to respond to the phenomenal changes in society in the past 50 years. Opportunities such as those presented by the Tomlinson report have been missed. Extended schools present a new opportunity if agencies work closely together in fulfilling the Every Child Matters philosophy; a co-operation which some feel is in severe danger under the proposed system.

Aspirations to develop a more inclusive society through education are admirable but it can be argued that they cannot be realised without breaking out from the current prescriptive framework. Will the white paper allow such a liberation? I think not.

Helen Bonnick is a supervisor of school-home support workers and a social worker

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