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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 October, 2004, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
Heads calling for 'freer' schools
Dr Martin Stephen
Dr Martin Stephen wants education freed from politicians
Secondary school education policy should be taken out of politicians' control to put an end to continuous reforms, a leading head teacher says.

Power should instead be handed to a commission made up of employers, universities, parents and teachers.

Martin Stephen, high master of St Paul's School, London, likened the idea to the move giving the Bank of England control over interest rates.

Dr Stephen also attacked the drive to get 50% of under-30s into university.

Speaking in his capacity as chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference - which represents most of the UK's large independent schools - Dr Stephen said education did not fit the five-year span of a government.

"The essentially and unavoidably short-term outlook of politicians can no longer justify their taking decisions on education.

'Scar tissue'

"We force bad or muddled decisions on our political leaders because we do not give them the time education needs," he told delegates gathered for the HMC's annual conference in St Andrews.

"Government has five or at most ten years to plan and execute its policy, less time than a single child spends in the system.

Independent school pupils
Dr Stephen called for crossover between state and private schools

"Successive governments have redesigned and redesigned our education system so that it bears a resemblance to a wound operated on so often that all that is left is scar tissue."

Dr Stephen said universities, colleges and employers should be involved in the design of the curriculum.

He said he felt "anger" and "incredulity" at the government's target of getting 50% of all under-30s in England into higher education by 2010.

The figure had not been sufficiently thought through in terms of the needs of the economy.

'Class war'

It was not the job of independent schools to fight the class war, Dr Stephen added, saying they had moved into 2004 ahead of their critics.

He urged ministers to do more to widen access to private education.

"Every parent and child in the UK should have the chance to attend an impendent school regardless of the race, colour, creed, social or economic standing of their parents.

"In a world where the mixed economy is the norm, it is madness for government not to buy places in our schools."

And he called for greater flexibility to allow teachers to move between the independent and maintained sectors.

Dr Stephen also attacked school league tables for failing to "tell the truth about our schools".

It was not the job of teachers to look after both lower-ability and extremely bright children.

Dr Stephen asked: "How reasonable is it of us to expect a person with a 2:1 in physics to teach not only a bright and aspirational A-level class, but also to teach those for whom a C grade at GCSE in combined science is an almost impossible dream?"

A Department for Education and Skills spokesman said: "We all know we live in a democracy, where people elect politicians to oversee and improve the major public services, including education."

Of university entrance targets, he added: "We have a big choice as a country. Do we raise our game with higher and higher skills or say only a small elite should have the chance to go to university. We can't just stick a cap on ambition or stay stuck in the past."

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