Wednesday, August 17, 2005


You couldn't make this stuff up

A growing number of Labour councils are taking parents to court to try to prevent them from sending their children to the school of their choice. Alfie Sidford, 4, won the right to attend his popular local school in Haringey, North London, from an independent appeal panel. But the Labour local authority is spending thousands of pounds to take his parents to the High Court to send him to a more distant primary.

In Reading, Berkshire, a group of parents have spent 2,000 pounds each to hire a barrister to uphold an independent appeal decision to send their children to the popular local school. Labour-controlled Reading council is fighting them in court because there are empty desks to fill elsewhere in the borough. Both cases fly in the face of Tony Blair's commitment to parental choice and are driving the Government's urgent quest to make the expansion of popular schools a reality.

Anthony Sidford, Alfie's father, said that his son wanted to go to nearby Weston Park primary school to join his friends and still did not know that the council was battling to stop him. Mr Sidford, who is representing himself in the High Court case, added: "I never thought that making an application to go to the local primary school would end up in the High Court. When Labour came to power in 1997, one of the mantras was `education, education, education'. We are fighting for the right for our child to be provided with a good local convenient education and the independent appeal panel agreed with us. But it does not seem as if the local Labour council is actually giving substance to the rhetoric. "It seems strange that Haringey council can find money for lawyers but is apparently unable to provide enough places."

The council said that it regretted the distress to the Sidfords but it had a duty to all parents to treat every case consistently in line with the law. Reading council is battling 12 sets of parents in the High Court who won the right for their children to attend Caversham primary school at an independent appeal panel. Some even have siblings at the oversubscribed school.

Clare Cummings, who wants her daughter Chloe, 4, to attend the school next month along with her older sister, Gemma, said: "We won our appeal and then we were taken to the High Court and had our appeals quashed. We are going back to a second appeal later this month. Parental choice has just not worked for us. We have had a terrible time. "The parents hired a barrister and a lawyer and we have all got to pay around 2,000 pounds."

Reading council said that to admit the children would affect education at the school and cost 200,000 pounds for one extra teacher over six years.


Blair demands more school choice

Tony Blair has ordered officials to make it easier and quicker for popular schools to expand after the failure of measures to improve parent power in education. An Education White Paper this autumn will rewrite the rulebook on school choice after a 37 million pound school expansion programme that was begun in 2003 resulted in just seven popular schools adding extra classes.

Parents will be given new rights to demand sixth-form provision and schools may lose the ability to block the expansion of a successful neighbour even if it threatens their own viability, The Times understands.

A range of other measures is being considered including more direct financial incentives for popular schools and the reform of School Organisation Committees, the local bodies responsible for planning school places. Successful head teachers will be offered even greater incentives to "expand" their school by taking over a failing school nearby.

Mr Blair is said to be deeply frustrated that his continued pledges of a revolution in parental choice to enable hundreds more pupils to go to their first preference school have come to little. Speaking at the Labour Party conference in 2002, the Prime Minister said: "Why shouldn't there be a range of schools for parents to choose from . . . Why shouldn't good schools expand or take over failing schools or form federations?"

But figures from the Department for Education show that it has so far received just 20 applications for the popular schools expansion programme which came into force two summers ago. Seven have been approved, five rejected and eight are still being considered.

The White Paper expected in October will focus on Labour's manifesto promise to tailor schooling to the individual needs of every child. But Downing Street has been embarrassed by the actions of Labour councils taking parents to the High Court to stop them sending their children to the school of their choice. One source said: "School expansion is something we are looking at as we develop the White Paper proposals. "It is certainly the case that there has been a poor level of expansion over the past two years. "We need to do more to create the right incentives for a popular school to want to expand as well as making it easier or quicker."

Good schools will also be encouraged to expand using funding from Labour's 15-year Building Schools for the Future programme, which aims to refurbish every school. The ambitious proposals to expand popular schools hit problems not least because many head teachers do not want their schools to get bigger. They fear that this will change one of the qualities of the school that made it popular and successful in the first place.

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "Schools see the next phase of development as getting better not getting larger because getting larger can put at risk the progress that you have already made. One of the major tensions in the Government education programme is the greater freedom for individual schools on the one hand and the thrust towards greater collaboration on the other. That will not be made easier by loosening restrictions on expansion



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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