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By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley ...
By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley

The government will reconsider whether schools seeking approval to run innovative projects - perhaps including exemption from much of the national curriculum - will be legally required to consult with their local education authorities.

The undertaking was given by education minister Baroness Ashton during committee stage debate on the Education Bill in the lords. She promised to consider whether the requirement should be written into the Bill rather than by relying on guidelines to be issued later.

Opposition and independent cross-bench peers also expressed concern that all decisions on innovation and exemptions would be taken by the education secretary and DfES officials without their being a statutory requirement for schools or the secretary of state to consult with LEAs, chief education officers or the chief inspector of Ofsted.

An amendment by Conservative Baroness Blatch to give the Ofsted chief inspector parity with the education secretary in passing an opinion on innovation applications from schools was defeated by 133 votes to 75.

She said: 'We will have the secretary of state, who does not know all of the schools locally, speaking to the chief inspector, who does know all of the schools locally. If the chief inspector can say...that a proposition from a school or an applicant contributes to the raising of educational standards, that should be the end of the matter. That should not be second-guessed by the secretary of state, although technically it would be'.

Peers said they would return to the issue of statutory consultation with LEAs and chief education officers if they were not satisfied with the government's approach at the Bill's report stage.

Liberal Democrat Baroness Walmsley said her amendments, which she withdrew, would ensure local authorities - who had a strategic role in promoting and sustaining innovation - were recognised in the Bill as statutory consultees when the secretary of state or the Welsh assembly made an order to suspend statutory requirements.

'That would ensure that one school could not innovate at the expense of other schools in the area without the agreement of the local authority. The amendments would ensure that the power to innovate was translated into greater freedoms and flexibilities for councils as well as schools, drawing LEAs into the innovation agenda', she added.

Cross-bencher Lord Dearing, who has chaired government and Church of England inquiries into aspects of education, supported the amendments and said he hope the government would respond to them.

'I believe that good chief education officers have a great deal to contribute to the development of thinking in schools. If they have a statutory right to be consulted, they can contribute without hindering', he commented.

Hansard 2 May 2002: Column 801-870;887-928

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