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Tuesday, 4 July, 2000, 19:39 GMT 20:39 UK
Hague's tricky balancing act
crisp packet collecting
Schools are always looking to raise more money
William Hague's speech on the Conservatives' education policy contains little they have not announced already.

The central plank - making all schools "free schools", released from local education authority control - was part of The Commonsense Revolution, published at the party conference last October.

Parents will no longer choose schools, schools will choose pupils

Union leader John Dunford
BBC Education Correspondent Mike Baker says Mr Hague wants to reclaim education as a Tory issue and this speech is designed to tackle the government on its priority area.

"Opposition parties need innovative plans to grab attention, so the Conservatives are pressing the "free schools" concept as far as they can, releasing schools from almost all external controls," he said.

"But Mr Hague lives under the shadow of the radical Tory school reforms introduced by the Thatcher government. The national curriculum, for example, restricted schools' freedom to teach what they wished.

"So it's a difficult balancing act: trying to be different to the government without rejecting past Tory policies which have been embraced by Labour.

"Delegating more money to schools is Mr Hague's 'big idea'.

"But Labour has already set a target of 90% of education money going to schools. Further delegation will involve removing funds from areas such as school transport or the budget for cutting class sizes."

Some aspects of the Conservative proposals are welcome to school leaders, especially greater financial delegation and less constraint over discipline and exclusions.

Lynn Gadd:
Lynn Gadd, head of Copthall School in north London, said: "We feel that the local authority has got a role, in doing things which only the local authority can do, which is to have an overview of all schools.

"But the more they can allow schools to tackle for themselves, the better - we want a light touch."

But the Local Government Association dismissed Mr Hague's ideas as "barmy".

The general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, said that a system in which 25,000 schools each had their own admissions policies would create "chaos and anxiety" for parents.

"Parents will no longer choose schools, schools will choose pupils. One school in every area will have to take the pupils that others do not want to admit," he said.

And Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "The much-vaunted 'setting schools free' policy could simply plunge schools into the freedom of the jungle."

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See also:

04 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Hague offers extra 540 per pupil
02 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Hague backs school uniform
17 Jun 00 | Education
Action over teacher abuse claims
23 Jun 00 | Correspondents
Head quits over disruptive pupils
06 Jun 00 | Education
Heads debate Hague's idea
23 Nov 99 | Education
Tories pledge to 'free' schools
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