Government plans to give schools greater independence by encouraging them to opt for foundation status have been given the green light to continue their journey through Parliament – but only thanks to the support of Conservative MPs.
Fifty-two back-bench Labour MPs voted against the second reading of the controversial Education and Inspection Bill, which will promote the creation of foundation schools and has been widely criticised for taking control away from local authorities and for not being clear enough on admissions policies. However, with a 343 majority in favour of the bill proceeding, it will now pass to committee stage for closer scrutiny.
The government insists that the bill does not, as critics fear, allow selection by the back door. Prior to the bill’s publication, a number of concessions were made in a bid to win over Labour rebels opposed to selection, including outlawing admissions interviews and insisting foundation schools must “abide by” rather than merely “have regard to” the national admissions code.
Speaking in the House of Commons, education secretary Ruth Kelly said: “There will be less academic selection in our schools. Admissions forums will scrutinise what is happening at a local level and will report on whether schools are following the code of practice on admissions or not. The forums will also examine how special needs children, children on free school meals, and ethnic minority groups are faring.”
However, the Children Services Network – formerly the Education Network – remains sceptical about the powers granted to these admissions forums. Co-ordinator Martin Rogers said: “They do have a role, but they don’t have enough teeth. It is also a worry that the duty on local authorities to ensure schools operate an equal access policy, outlined in the original white paper, is not in the bill.”
With the government now relying on votes from opposition parties to support the bill, teachers and professionals are worried that the real issues are in danger of being lost in a game of political football.
“I think a lot of major decisions on the bill will be made at the committee stage. A policy may be decided by whether it is perceived to be a ‘concession’ or not, rather than whether it is a good idea,” Rogers warned.