Education reforms dropped following opposition

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Schools Secretary Ed Balls has had to abandon key education reforms, including compulsory sex education for 15-year-olds, following fierce opposition from the Conservatives. Under the proposed plans, all teenagers from the age of 15 would have received lessons in subjects such as how to bring up children, sexual activity, contraception, abortion and adoption from next year.

The reforms are being shelved to push the Children, Schools and Families Bill through parliament before it is dissolved ahead of the general election.

The Schools Secretary has also had to drop plans to make parents sign 'behaviour' contracts with schools and the requirement for parents who educate their children at home to register with local councils.

A guarantee of one-to-one tuition for pupils who fall behind in English and maths has also been dropped along with school report cards - which would have graded institutions on a range of criteria such as exam performance and pupil behaviour.

In an open letter posted on his website to the Shadow Schools Secretary, Michael Gove, Ed Balls said he wanted to "put on record my deep regret that you have not been prepared to support key measures in the Children, Schools and Families Bill.

"Our reforms would ensure that by reducing the age of parental opt-out to 15, all children receive at least one year of compulsory sex and relationship education (SRE). This is a very significant setback, which will deny many young people proper and balanced sex and relationships education."

The measure he claims are unsupported by the Conservatives include:

  • guaranteed one to one tuition for children who fall behind;
  • compulsory Home School Agreements so all parents support teachers to keep discipline;
  • statutory PSHE including sex and relationships and financial education;
  • proper protection for home educated children.

Mr Balls says:  "I believe that every child falling behind in English and maths should be guaranteed the small group and one to one support they need to catch up and make progress so that they are secure in the basics and ready to learn in secondary school. Such tailored support should no longer be the preserve of the wealthy and privileged few but a core component of the curriculum. I am deeply disappointed that you do not agree."

He goes on to say: "Our measures to strengthen Home School Agreements would give schools new and stronger powers to ensure all parents support schools to maintain good behaviour including the possibility of a court-imposed parenting order. I believe parents and the profession will be extremely concerned and disappointed at your refusal to back teachers and headteachers.

"It is a great pity that you have put at risk improvements in our schools, support for pupils and the well-being of our young people. I will be campaigning to ensure that this Government is returned and that these measures do make it on the statute book in the first session of the new Parliament."

A Conservative spokesman said: "We supported having better sex education but the Government insisted on removing parents' rights to withdraw their children from classes they thought damaging - and we think parents must have such a right.

"This Bill would have meant a great new wave of bureaucracy swamping schools and it is good news that it has collapsed. Teachers will breathe a sigh of relief."

The Terrence Higgins Trust criticised the Tories for their failure to support compulsory sex education for pupils at age 15. Lisa Power, from the Trust said: "It's a disgraceful betrayal of the next generation. This isn't just about sex - it's about relationships, it's about bullying, it's about a whole raft of things."

Under the redrafted Bill, home school agreements, which give head teachers stronger powers to enforce parents' responsibilities in maintaining good behaviour, have been abandoned.

Reforms of the primary school curriculum, allowing schools greater flexibility to tailor teaching to their children, have also been dropped, as have catch-up lessons, one-to-one tuition and small group support for pupils needing extra support.

The Bill will no longer give local authorities powers to intervene in schools causing concern and it will not give powers to the secretary of state to intervene in failing youth-offending teams.

However, some key reforms remain. They include a requirement for school inspectors to judge schools on how they treat pupils with special needs, and a new right for parents to appeal if their child's special needs statement is not changed after an annual review.

Another clause will force local authorities to find a school for children who are waiting for one for medical or psychological reasons.

The House of Lords will also discuss a section in the bill which creates new powers for local authorities and the schools secretary to intervene to raise standards in schools. But some of these may be lost too, if the Conservatives oppose them.