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EDITIONS
Sunday, 25 March, 2001, 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK
Hague targets school red tape
William Hague at SHA conference
William Hague called for greater autonomy for schools
By BBC News Online's Katherine Sellgren at the SHA conference in Newport

The crisis in teacher recruitment can only be solved if the government cuts bureaucracy and gives head teachers the freedom to manage schools as they see fit, according to the Conservative leader William Hague.

Restoring respect to the teaching profession was the only way to get more teachers into the classroom, Mr Hague told head teachers gathered at the Secondary Heads Association's (SHA) annual conference in Newport, Gwent.


Head teachers should be free to shape the character and ethos of their schools

William Hague
"We are making the colossal mistake of stripping head teachers of the opportunity to exercise their own judgement and experience and instead imposing on them national policies which they have no choice but to implement," Mr Hague said.

He chided government ministers for telling classroom teachers what they should teach and how they should teach it.

"Rules and regulations, directives and instructions are now sprayed from Whitehall on a daily basis," Mr Hague suggested.

He promised teachers that the National Curriculum would be simplified, giving head teachers and their staff much more choice in how they structured their lessons.

"The recruitment crisis in our schools will never be solved until the government recognises that teachers can no longer be regarded as a captive body, people who - having recognised an indelible vocation - can be bullied and directed," Mr Hague said.

Mastering the basics

Pupils who struggled to read, write or add up properly should be prevented from doing other subjects while they caught up, Mr Hague told delegates.

It was "crazy" to force the youngsters to do the rest of the national curriculum while they were struggling with the basics, he said.

But SHA's general secretary, John Dunford, said Mr Hague had misunderstood the point of a comprehensive education - to give young people the chance to enjoy the "richness and breadth" of the full range of subjects they studied up until the age of 14.

Such a move by the Conservatives would lead to a lot of "very bored, very reluctant, very disaffected" children, Mr Dunford warned.

Tough on exclusion

Mr Hague also ridiculed the Labour government's stipulation that head teachers must reduce exclusions by a third.

"It is disgraceful that schools should face thousands of pounds in fines for every exclusion above the arbitrary number that Whitehall invents for them," Mr Hague said.

Instead, heads should be given the freedom to "deal firmly" with disruptive pupils.

'Free schools'

The Tory leader re-emphasised his "free schools" policy, where heads would receive funding directly.

This would prevent "interference from politicians", making schools more independent from government and local councils than ever before.

"Head teachers should be free to shape the character and ethos of their schools by setting their own policies and exercising their own judgement," Mr Hague told delegates.

But he acknowledged that Conservative governments had been - in the past - as guilty of excessive interference as Mr Blair's government.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Sue Littlemore
"The Conservatives argue that Labour has failed to make teaching attractive"
See also:

31 May 00 | UK Education
14 Feb 01 | UK Education
06 Jun 00 | UK Education
04 Jul 00 | UK Education
04 Jul 00 | UK Politics
23 Mar 01 | UK Education
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