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EDITIONS
Politics Show Sunday, 9 February, 2003, 15:43 GMT
Damian Green interview
Damian Green
Damian Green is the Tory Education Spokesman
Jeremy Vine was joined by Tory Education Spokesman Damian Green to discuss Chris Woodhead's argument for a radical reorganisation of the entire school system.

Jeremy Vine:
I am joined now by the Conservative Education spokesman, Damian Green. Welcome. Why not kill the "blob"?

Damian Green:
Well, we're going to. I mean, I agree with quite a lot of what Chris Woodhead said in that film. He's clearly a got a great career not just as a polemicist but as an investigative reporter ahead of him. Just as he was a good Chief Inspector of Schools. In particular, I agree with the point John Redwood made in that film, which is that schools should be the bodies that make the choices. I think the one point where I'd part company is just to say: "Well, you abolish everything compulsory, get rid of all LEAs, get rid of the Department for Education". What I want to do is to make the school the institution that takes the most important decision in education. Now some schools will want complete autonomy, and complete freedom, to say "Fine, we're big enough, we can go out on our own". Other schools won't. Other schools like their LEA, think their LEA does a good job for them. What I want to do as Secretary of State for Education is to give the schools the choice rather than have that choice made in Whitehall as it is at present.

Jeremy Vine:
But as we know from experience, most schools will not take the option of opting out and so the blob lives on?

Damian Green:
I don't think that's necessarily true...

Jeremy Vine:
One in five?

Damian Green:
...what happened last time when the last Conservative government introduced grant-maintained schools was that something like twelve or thirteen hundred mostly secondary schools took that option. And what put a lot of the schools off was the politicisation of the process by the introduction of ballots which inevitably brought in local politicians. Lots, particularly, of Labour councils ran scare campaigns against them. Now, what I'm saying is that the schools should take the decision. It should be for the governors who represent the local community to take that decision so that they can get out from under, if they like. And also the other point where I strongly agree with the point Chris was making is that there should be the opportunity for other people to come into the state system so you have schools that are funded by the state but not run by the state. It's what they do not just in America but in many continental European countries as well.

Jeremy Vine:
But you've changed policy in January, haven┐t you? Because at the 2001 election, your policy was: "Conservatives will introduce "Free Schools". We will free every school in the country from bureaucratic control and allow them to shape their own character. Heads and governors will have complete responsibility for running their schools." Your new policy is what you've just described, which is where they have the choice and, of course, when they choose not to go out, the blob still exists and the money that Chris Woodhead is talking about saving, is not saved.

Damian Green:
The reason why the blob is a blob is that it knows it's immune and my proposals would stop it being immune. It would mean that any school that wanted to get out from under could get out from under. Now, that would have two effects. I think many many thousands of schools would want to do that. For those that weren't, then those inside the education bodies would know that every school had the opportunity to do that if it wanted. And that, I am absolutely sure, would sharpen up their act no end.

Jeremy Vine:
Do you agree with the sentiments in the film - Mr Woodhead spoke of local education authority officials and politicians, the teachers' unions, academics in university education departments, bureaucrats in Whitehall, all those, he said, "unreconstructed vested interests that stand in the way of change".

Damian Green:
Well, I don't think I'd generalise quite as far as Chris. I'm by nature a much more emollient person, possibly. But I think that what you need are structures that allow the professionals in the schools actually to do their job, cut back on the bureaucracy, make sure that the funding goes much more in a block to the school, rather than in the eighty different funding streams they can now have. And also give parents more choice. So if you allow good schools to expand, if you allow new people into the state system, then every parent will have a choice. You can get an excellent education in this country but the way to guarantee it is to be able to pay for it, to be able either to buy education or move to the areas where you can get it. What I want to do is to extend that opportunity to people who haven't got the economic clout.

Jeremy Vine:
Does it worry you, briefly, that in watering down the policy you've just described, your 2001 election policy, you've ended up with a position which is almost exactly the same as Labour's?

Damian Green:
No, it's nothing like Labour's.

Jeremy Vine:
Earned autonomy or assumed autonomy?

Damian Green:
Earned autonomy is an oxymoron. Earned autonomy doesn't mean anything. If the Secretary of State can decide whether you're autonomous or not, then you're not autonomous. Under my system, the schools would be autonomous if they wanted to be.

Jeremy Vine:
Damian Green, thank you very much indeed.

THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A TRANSCRIPTION UNIT RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT; BECAUSE OF THE POSSIBILITY OF MIS-HEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY, IN SOME CASES, OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS ACCURACY.

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