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'Blair may retreat over school reform'

The British Prime Minister will be forced to retreat over school reform next week under pressure from a committee of lawmakers.

india Updated: Jan 20, 2006 18:25 IST

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be forced to retreat over school reform next week under pressure from a committee of lawmakers, a newspaper reported Friday.

The Times said it had obtained a draft report from the cross-party Commons Education Committee, which tells him to dilute plans for new self-governing trust schools and give town halls even more control over education.

The report is widely seen as the basis of a compromise deal with mutinous members of Blair's ruling Labour Party, The Times said.

Blair, who has seen his once-massive support erode over the unpopular war in Iraq, vowed to forge ahead with the reform of education as a top priority when he was re-elected in May to his third and last term as prime minister.

The report concludes that local authorities, far from being stripped of control over new trust schools, should be given new powers to force all schools to take their fair share of poor and disadvantaged pupils.

The sweeping concessions suggested by the MPs, in effect tearing up Blairs school reforms, greatly reduce his room to maneuver, the newspaper said.

If he fails to take their recommendations into a bill next month, he faces a huge rebellion and will have to rely on opposition Conservative Party support to get the bill through.

If he does amend his plans, the Conservatives will accuse him of backing away from radical reform yet again to placate his own party, it said.

More than 90 MPs, including many loyal former ministers, have made clear that they will vote against the bill unless it is radically different from the proposals set out in a White Paper late last year.

Under the committees recommendations, local authorities would tell schools how many children from poor households should be admitted, and vigorously police a new national admissions code that would outlaw selection and interviews of pupils or parents, the paper said.

The report comes after Education Secretary Ruth Kelly, a Blair ally in the drive for reform, vowed to ban child sex offenders from working in schools in a bid to defuse a political storm.

She apologised to parents for the anguish caused by 12 days of uncertainty over how many sex offenders were working in schools since a newspaper revealed she cleared an offender to work as a physical education teacher.

First Published: Jan 20, 2006 18:25 IST