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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 June, 2004, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
Tories promise school choice
School gates
Parents are promised less worry in finding a good school place
Conservative leader Michael Howard has promised parents that his party can make the struggle to find a place in a good school a "thing of the past".

In a speech promoting greater choice in public services, Mr Howard said that the Tories wanted "more schools" and "smaller schools".

Tory policies would mean that parents could escape having to buy into school catchment areas, he said.

Mr Howard also promised to invest an extra 15bn per year in schools.

According to figures published in March, the projected total UK education budget for next year will be 57bn - suggesting the substantial scale of extra funding that the Tories are promising to deliver.

"Conservatives will invest to reform. We will invest an extra 34bn a year in the NHS, and an extra 15bn a year in schools over the next Parliament. That is a total of an extra 49 billion a year in schools and hospitals."

'Right to choose'

"Experience shows that the right to choose leads to more schools, better schools, smaller schools, more diverse schools that cater for all parts of the community and all ranges of ability," said Mr Howard.

Michael Howard
Michael Howard wants more choice in public services

"The struggle parents have to get their child into a good school - moving house, bargaining their way through the admissions rules - will be, over time, a thing of the past. Instead schools will be striving for the right to educate your child."

The details of how this choice will be provided to families is to be explained in the forthcoming weeks, Mr Howard promised.

"They will build on the passports policy originally set out last year. But they are more ambitious," said Mr Howard.

This might suggest a re-launch for what was called the "pupils' passport" scheme, which received a bumpy start - with its plan to stop schools giving priority to children living near to the school being downplayed within days of its announcement.

The policy proposes that popular schools should be able to expand - and so increase the number of places in schools sought by parents.

It also promises parents a "voucher" to be used to "buy" a place in a state or private school - but capped at a level equivalent to the cost of state education.

The language of choice and diversity was also being used by the prime minister in his monthly news conference.

Tony Blair said his government had created greater diversity - but within the state school system. And he said that specialist schools were showing how such diversity was raising standards.

While both of the biggest political parties say they are in favour of choice in education, for parents it can feel as though schools are choosing pupils, rather than the other way around.

Particularly in urban areas, the most desirable schools can be heavily over-subscribed and finding an acceptable alternative can mean much anxiety for families.

Your experiences?

In areas such as London, this can mean parents sending their children across the capital to find suitable places - with some boroughs having 40% of children going to schools outside the borough.

Having a good school nearby can also inflate house prices, with tens of thousands of pounds being added to property in the catchment areas of desirable schools.

Addressing this vexed question of choice, the House of Commons Education Select Committee will be publishing a report on school admissions later this month.

What are your experiences of finding a school place? How could admissions be made fairer? Is there enough choice in the school system?

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15 Apr 04  |  Education
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