Page last updated at 12:18 GMT, Tuesday, 30 September 2008 13:18 UK

Tories pledge many more Academies

Shadow Schools' Secretary Michael Gove
Michael Gove promised independent state schools for every community

The Tories would allow the 400 top performing state schools in England to become independent but state-funded Academies free from government control.

Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove said in return these excellent state schools would be required to use their new powers to help struggling schools.

He also said parents would be empowered to set up independent state-funded schools based on a Swedish model.

These would be accountable to parents and free from local authority control.

Imagine it - state schools leafleting in your road - selling themselves to parents on the basis of their great teaching
Michael Gove
shadow schools secretary

Mr Gove told his party's conference, in Birmingham, that Academies would become the norm in secondary education and that the Conservatives, if elected, would double the number currently planned.

This is not dissimilar to Labour's policies to vastly increase the number of Academies in England.

Mr Gove promised an "independent state school accessible to every community".

These would be open to all but committed to excellence, and free to pursue tougher discipline policies, free to pay good teachers more, free to innovate, experiment and drive up standards, he said.

He described a vision of the future where parents were able to choose good schools, rather than good schools choosing parents.

"Imagine it - state schools leafleting in your road - selling themselves to parents on the basis of their great teaching and superb pastoral care."

Not only would parents be allowed to set up their own schools, so would education specialists, philanthropists and federations.

What cost?

They would not need permission from the local authority, as is the case now, to do this.

Mr Gove also decried a slip in GCSE standards, with pupils able to get a good pass with just a third of the answers correct.

"It must be our mission to inject common sense into our examinations system so we have fewer, better, more rigorous exams."

He also repeated an old Conservative mantra, to give teachers the power to keep order in their schools.

"We will give every head teacher the right to exclude violent and disruptive pupils - without being second guessed by an outside bureaucracy," he said.

Mr Gove also promised to offer a free university education to those in the armed forces returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

They would also be offered free teacher training in an effort to get more discipline in to classrooms.

'Chilling'

Schools minister Lord Adonis said Mr Gove's Swedish experiment would cost billions.

He added: "When the Tories first proposed a few hundred new 'Swedish style' schools they conceded they would have to cut 4.5 billion from our school building programme to pay for the capital costs.

"But the 5,000 schools the Tories are now talking about would cost many billions more."

"Where is this money going to come from and how are they going to deal with the impact on existing schools?"

Liberal Democrat children, schools and families spokesman David Laws said: "The Tories say that they are going to free schools and teachers from central government control, but the small print suggests that they simply want to impose a different set of centralised diktats.

"Michael Gove claims he wants to slim down the curriculum, but in the next breath he tells teachers which bits of history they should be teaching.

"Tory thinking is muddled between the rhetoric of giving back real freedoms and the reality of extra micro-management."

The leader of the NASUWT teachers' union, Chris Keates, said the speech was high on rhetoric and low on detail but was "tinged with chilling references to failed Conservative education policies of the past".

"The picture Mr Gove painted of an education service in chaos and riddled with failure is not only grossly inaccurate but it is also a grave disservice to schools, teachers and head teachers who have done so much to raise standards of education," she said.

The National Union of Teachers said Mr Gove's proposals spell potential chaos and planning gridlock for local schools, as well as threatening the existence of a local democratic voice in education.




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