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EDUCATION BILL EXTENDS CHOICE AND DIVERSITY - SHEPHARD

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Education and employment secretary Gillian Shephard has set out at second reading the further extension of choice a...
Education and employment secretary Gillian Shephard has set out at second reading the further extension of choice and diversity offered by the Education Bill.

Mrs Shephard said:

'One of the great strengths of this government has been to provide and promote choice and diversity. This Bill will enable us to go further. We want to give schools greater freedom to introduce or extend selection and specialisation.

'We are not in the business of imposing two types of schools, we welcome all types. The only uniformity we insist on is that they should all provide a good education. We would like to see more grammar schools if that is what parents want.

'The Bill will:

give schools greater freedom to introduce or extend selection by:

-- setting down the percentage of pupils which school admission authorities may select by ability or aptitude without having to seek central approval. These are 50% for GM secondary schools, 30% for LEA specialist schools and 20% for others

-- requiring the governing bodies of all secondary schools to consider once a year whether to introduce or extend selection and report their conclusions to parents

-- giving governing bodies of LEA secondary schools that wish to become full grammar schools the right to publish statutory proposals and seek central approval in their own right if the LEA does not respond constructively to their plans

-- enabling the Funding Agency for Schools to propose the establishment of new GM schools in any LEA area

-- extending the scope of the Assisted Places Scheme to enhance choice for parents, so that in future it can cover independent schools which only provide primary education

'GM status gives schools the sense that they are responsible for what they do. It unlocks energy, initiative and commitment. In addition to the power to select more of their pupils the Bill also enables GM schools to add nursery classes, sixth forms and boarding facilities and to expand their capacity by up to 50% without central approval.

'The Bill is not limited to furthering choice and diversity. No school, whatever its status, can achieve high standards unless it can first achieve high standards of pupil behaviour and discipline.

'Most schools are orderly and purposeful. Well-run schools are a tribute to the professionalism of heads and teachers. Most pupils are well-behaved and keen to learn.

'Sadly there are exceptions. There is more that can and should be done and that is why the Bill contains measures to strengthen the ability of schools to promote good behaviour and to take effective action against bad.

'The government's over-riding objective in education is to raise standards in schools. All of the measures in the Bill have that one aim in mind. The selection and deregulation measures will help create a pattern of schools in which each can develop its own strengths. The discipline measures will help create an environment within schools in which good teaching and learning can take place. But the Bill also targets some specific areas for action to raise standards.

'Choice and diversity for parents. Clear expectations of pupils. Accountability with freedom for schools. These are the principles we have made our own and applied consistently Through this Bill we shall continue to apply them for the benefit of all the children of this country.'

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