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Tuesday, 9 October, 2001, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Tories back faith schools
Damian Green
Damian Green says teachers need support not criticism
Religious schools, including Muslim schools should be increased, says the Shadow Education Secretary.

Damian Green, addressing the Conservative party annual conference in Blackpool, praised schools affiliated to religious groups - and said that Muslim schools deserved "support and not suspicion".

But this endorsement for religious schools was attacked from the conference platform even before Mr Green had spoken.

They are doing a good job in educating their children, and they deserve support and not suspicion

Damian Green praises Muslim schools

Naman Purewal, a Sikh from west London, one of a series of speakers on education, said she was "devastated" by the party's support for faith schools, saying that religion should be kept separate from education.

But Mr Green told the conference that he had been impressed by the well-behaved and motivated pupils he had met on a visit to a Muslim school in London last week.

The government has already announced an expansion of secondary schools linked to religious groups - but it has faced criticism that this would increase divisiveness and could inflame ethnic tensions.

Building bridges

But the Conservative education spokesperson, making his first major policy speech, said that it was "dangerous and wrong" to oppose faith schools.

In deprived inner-city areas, it was often faith schools that offered the best chance of a decent education, he said.

The speech also indicated an attempt to re-build bridges with the teaching profession, saying that their efforts should be applauded and not undermined.

While I am doing this job you will not hear me making any general attacks on teachers or the teaching profession. That will not be the Conservative way.

Damian Green, Shadow Education Secretary

"We should celebrate our teachers, instead of knocking them. We all know that there are huge problems in our schools. But it is an easy, lazy and dishonest approach to blame the teachers."

"While I am doing this job you will not hear me making any general attacks on teachers or the teaching profession. That will not be the Conservative way."

There were also calls for greater support for teachers facing badly-behaved and disruptive pupils.

Mr Green has been identified as one of the few moderates in the shadow cabinet - and his speech was conspicious as much for what it left out as for what it included.

There was no reference to school vouchers, which had been advocated by Iain Duncan Smith during his leadership campaign.

Vouchers have been consistently popular with right-wing educationalists, in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Union reaction

There was also no mention of the "free schools" policy which had been the Conservatives' education flagship at the last general election.

This free market approach to school places and admissions had not appeared to have much parent-appeal and it had been heavily criticised by teachers, heads and local authorities.

The "conciliatory" tone of the speech was welcomed by Nigel de Gruchy, the general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women

But he warned that education policy would need to match the ambition to "celebrate" teachers' achievements.

"The core of such a policy must contain measures to help teaches with workload, pupil indiscipline and pay; not more experiments with market forces and privatisation," said Mr de Gruchy.

The Liberal Democrats described the speech as a "complete Conservative U-turn and abandonment of their free schools policy".

See also:

14 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Thatcherism 'no longer relevant'
09 Oct 01 | Conservatives
Tories focus on public services
23 Apr 01 | Education
'Chaos' fear over Tory places policy
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