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Monday, October 4, 1999 Published at 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK


Education

Schools at heart of Tory blueprint

William Hague: "If your school is inadequate you can do something about it"

Proposals aimed at improving failing schools are at the heart of a raft of new Conservative party policies.

Conference99
Sixty new policies make up a document entitled The Commonsense Revolution, which was officially unveiled at the party conference on Monday.

The Tories' education proposals, announced by Party Leader William Hague, are at the heart of the document.

They include giving parents the power to instigate the sacking of headteachers of failing schools, and a plan to make all schools "free schools", released from local education authority control.

The proposals include a "parent's guarantee", which would give parents the right to call a ballot if they believed a school was not delivering adequate standards.


William Hague: "I've never seen a school improve because a directive arrived from Whitehall"
The ballot could trigger an emergency Ofsted inspection.

If that inspection confirmed parents' concerns, the head and governors would lose their posts and the local education authority would be forced to put the management of the school out to tender - either to another school or a private company.

Alarm bells

Ofsted inspections currently take place every four years, but emergency inspections can be ordered if schools give serious cause for concern.

Alarm bells can be raised over consistent poor performance at a school by local education authority officials, or parents, who can contact Ofsted to express concerns.


Shadow Chancellor Francis Maude says the proposals will give parents more power
The Tories are said to be trying to show their party can be even tougher on standards than the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, without what Mr Hague claims is excessive central control by Whitehall and local town halls.

'Free schools'

Under their proposal to release all schools from LEA control, every school would have the same freedoms as the grant-maintained schools created by the last Tory Government, with complete control over their own budgets.


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Heads and governors would have complete responsibility for managing their schools, for employing their staff, for setting the school's timetable, opening hours, term times and admissions policies.

They would also have complete control over school discipline, with none of the targets imposed by the goverment for reducing school exclusions.

New units would be established outside schools to take excluded pupils and "encourage" them to improve their behaviour.

National teachers' pay scales would be abolished and schools would have the power to pay their staff whatever they wanted.

LEAs would have a residual responsibility to ensure every child in their area had access to education, but if a school did not want to use any of the services offered by the LEA, it would be free to look elsewhere.

The national curriculum would remain in place but would be made more flexible to allow schools to develop special subjects.

Selection

The proposals would allow a school's head and governors to decide whether it was wholly or partially selective or specialised, for example, in arts or music or sports.

Mr Hague admitted this could lead to greater selection in schools, but said it would depend on the schools themselves.

"I want to a comprehensive school which was an oustanding school, an excellent school," he said.

School Standards Minister Estelle Morris condemned the Tory proposals as a threat to the government's success in raising standards.

"Where we have raised standards for all our pupils, they simply want to play politics with their futures," she said.

The policies were also attacked by teachers' leaders, who said they would cause chaos within the education system.



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