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Tuesday, 23 November, 1999, 17:37 GMT
Tories pledge to 'free' schools
Theresa May
Theresa May: "We will make every school a free school"
The Conservatives pledged on Tuesday to make all schools "free" with a radical overhaul of the education system.

Shadow Education Secretary Theresa May said the party wanted all schools to take their own decisions over staff, pay, timetables and curriculum.

She made the pledge as she launched the Tories' consultation document, The Common Sense Revolution in Education.

Under the "free schools" policy, outlined at last month's Tory party conference, head teachers and governors would take complete responsibility for school management.

Schools would also have "greater flexibility" over the curriculum than under the government-set national curriculum, and greater freedom over discipline.

The Tories have also pledged to cut bureaucracy in schools, to allow parents to be able to call for an emergency Ofsted inspection if they have fears about standards, and to publish the results of Key Stage 1 national curriculum tests for seven-year-olds on a school-by-school basis.

Consulting schools

Among the party's other education policies are plans to abolish the "surplus places" rule which prevents over-subscribed schools from expanding, and to provide state funding for "partner schools" set up by the private sector or voluntary groups.

It also plans to set up new "headway centres" to provide out-of-school support for pupils at risk of expulsion - and it wants government targets for school exclusions to be abolished.

Ms May has said that pressure to cut exclusions by a third means disruptive pupils are kept in schools, even though it is harmful to themselves and their classmates.

But the government says the targets are a "symbol of treating the problem seriously" and that its plans to set up more pupil referral units within schools will allow disruptive pupils to continue learning without troubling their classmates.

Estelle Morris
Estelle Morris: Policy statement is a "big joke"
Launching the Common Sense Revolution in Education document, Ms May said every school in the country would now be consulted about it.

She said: "The Common Sense Revolution in Education was put together after we consulted teachers, parents, governors and councillors. Listening to their views is a vital part in our policy process."

"We want to work with teachers and parents to provide the Common Sense solutions which will bring excellence in education for every child."

Scathing

But School Standards Minister Estelle Morris was scathing about the Tories' consultation document.

She said: "We were promised a revolution and a raft of new policies. Instead we get three pages after nearly three years - some revolution.

"What we do get is senseless rather than common sense.

"There is no costing of any proposals, no detail to back up the plans.

"We know William Hague tells a good joke, but this policy statement must be the biggest joke yet."

Liberal Democrat education spokesman Phil Willis said the Tory ideas were "flawed" in every aspect.

He said: "The Conservatives are offering nothing but extra expense and uncertainty. There is no new investment and no serious ideas for improvement.

"Theresa May can run around like Lewis Carroll's Queen of hearts pretending this nonsense is a policy. But it's only a matter of time before she realises that she is clutching a pig, not a baby."

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See also:

05 Oct 99 | Education
Harsh response to Tories' proposals
05 Oct 99 | Education
Schools at heart of Tory blueprint
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