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Friday, 7 January, 2000, 15:54 GMT
Tory plans for 'partner schools'
The Shadow Education Secretary, Theresa May, has launched plans to give groups of parents or private companies state help to set up new schools.
The proposed "partner schools" would be similar to charter schools in the United States, where schools founded by groups of parents or private businesses get the same level of funding per pupil as those run by public authorities.
In a conference speech on Friday, Ms May said partner schools would help encourage diversity in education.
Speaking ahead of her speech to the North of England Education Conference, Ms May cited Kings' Manor School in Guildford, Surrey, as an example of the intervention of the private sector in the education system.
There, the Conservative-controlled Surrey education authority has handed the management of the school to a private company, 3E's - an offshoot of Kingshurst Technology College in Solihull.
Ms May said it would be unlikely that existing independent schools would get state cash under the plan, but they might be encouraged to set up new schools with public funds.
'Fusty recollection of the past'
But the idea was immediately condemned by teachers' leaders.
Peter Smith, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said it sounded like "an attempt to skin-graft a failed US initiative onto this country."
"It also sounds a bit like the Victorian idea of public schools setting up missions for the poor in the east end of London.
David Hart, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said: "I'm a strong supporter of more self-government for schools. But Conservative policies are a recipe for chaos.
"I don't think the interests of the most needy children will be looked after.
"There are still question marks over whether the private sector can do the job which the public sector can already do."
'Too many targets'
Ms May also used her speech to attack what she calls the government's "obsession" with targets.
She said Labour had introduced too many targets for pupils to meet, without any evidence that they improved education.
Target setting and monitoring added to the bureaucracy taking up teachers' time, and lead to resources being spent on the "process" of education, rather than education itself.
She added that targets did not take into account the individual needs of children.
And she said: "Perhaps of most concern, meeting them often distorts behaviour and can lead to exclusive education rather than inclusive education."
She reinforced the Tories' pledge to abolish targets to cut school exclusions, which they say will lead to disruptive pupils spoiling the education of their classmates.
"Target setting shows the government leaves no scope for ensuring that each child receives the education that is right for them," she said.
"That is the challenge in our education system - the need to ensure that education meets the needs of all."
Ms May's speech came a day after a keynote speech made to the conference in Wigan by the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, in which he outlined the next phase of the government's education programme.
Mr Blunkett called for improvements in results for 11 to 14-year-olds, and announced the introduction of voluntary tests in English, maths and science for pupils aged 12 and 13.
Schools will be expected to set their own targets from 2002, in an attempt to repeat the improvements in results that have been made under the testing and targets regime in primary schools.
He also announced an extra £10m to fund 2,500 summer schools this year and gave a long-term commitment to make a place in summer school available for every 11-year-old.
And there was an announcement of adventure-style summer camps for 16-year-olds, which are intended to help bridge the gap between school and work.
The Conservatives want to make all schools "free" with a radical overhaul of the education system, which would allow schools to take their own decisions over staff, pay, timetables and curriculum.
Ms May accused government of pushing for "centralisation", which she said restricted schools' abilities to meet the differing needs of pupils.
"By freeing schools from excessive government interference and by providing flexibility in the content and delivery of the curriculum, we will enable schools to differentiate more clearly according to the needs to individual pupils," she said.
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