The Government yesterday published its Education Bill. Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Education, explains why the Government is determined to continue with its reform agenda...
Teachers, parents and pupils in Birmingham can point to progress for their hard work.
Exam results are improving. In 1997, just over a third of pupils got five or more good GCSEs. Now that figure's up to 56 per cent, the national average.
It's a big improvement but everyone realises there is more to do. And it's still the case children from the poorest backgrounds do half as well.
Not only are too many children not getting the best our education system has to offer but it's poorer pupils suffering most.
That's why the Government is determined to continue improving schools. And we won't do that by doing nothing.
Our Education Bill sets out to give schools, teachers, parents and local communities the chance to accelerate the progress we have already seen. It builds on what we know already works so parents are confident their child has access to the best teaching and learning whichever school they choose.
We want to give teachers the freedom to meet the individual needs of their pupils whether it's helping them catch up or stretching them further - and the power to root out disruption in the classroom.
It also means a tougher line on schools that aren't performing well so they have just a year to show how they intend to get it right.
We are confident that these reforms will help schools continue to raise standards. And we believe the biggest improvements will come in those schools where the pattern of poor results and low aspirations has proved so difficult to shift.
It will enable schools to make use of the energy and expertise already in their community.
Time and time again over the last nine years, we've seen how working with external partners helps bring new ideas and confidence to forge a distinctive spirit in the school which helps raise morale and standards.
So specialist schools consistently out-perform non-specialist schools. In those serving deprived communities, for example, we find 46 per cent of pupils get five or more good GCSEs in specialist schools compared with 36 per cent in those without specialist status.
Our new trusts schools will build on what we already know is working well. They will enable schools, if they want, to work more effectively with other schools or outside partners like charities, local universities or businesses.
It will be up to schools themselves to decide whether they want to take up this opportunity. There is no compulsion and they will have to consult parents first.
But the evidence shows how this approach will help boost standards. It's why we are particularly keen that those schools serving the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods get the chance to see whether trust status could benefit their pupils.
This is not about selecting pupils by ability. We have stopped schools changing their admission procedures to do this and will close any loopholes. Interviewing pupils and parents, for example, will be outlawed completely.
We will also do more to make sure that schools work together locally on admissions, so all schools take their share of hard-to-place children.
We are also determined to ensure local authorities have the support and powers they need to raise standards. We want to enable them to intervene more quickly and effectively where schools are underperforming or failing.
We want them to take a broader look at what is happening in schools in their area so they ensure the education on offer meets the needs of the communities they serve.
Our schools have improved because we had the courage to reform as well as invest, to trust schools with more freedom and to refuse to accept second best.
Now we have to show the same determination and courage to lock in and speed up this progress. Children only have one chance of a good education. For their sake, we can't afford to stand still. ..SUPL: