Page last updated at 15:52 GMT, Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Brown pledges parents school vote

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News, education and family

Gordon Brown: "Parents will have a new right to initiate change"

Labour is promising parents in England a vote on whether struggling schools should be run by a different organisation.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has promised to give "parents a strong voice and real power".

Parents would be able to vote for a change of school leadership - with a list of approved organisations which could take over the school.

The Conservatives want it to be easier for parents to set up schools.

Labour's parent power plans are intended to accelerate the reduction in number of underachieving schools, both at primary and secondary level.

'Chain reaction'

Mr Brown says that where a "significant group" of parents are dissatisfied, the local authority will have to ballot all parents in a school on whether another provider should be brought in to "turn things around".

The prime minister says it will give "parents a strong voice and real power, but does not leave education to the mercy of the market".

"As a parent I want the best for my children. And I know all of us do. We want them to have better chances than we had. And that starts with education," Mr Brown will say.

But the Naswut teachers' union warned of the "unintended consequences of parental ballots" - saying they would "create unnecessary turbulence" and that teachers would be "working with the 'gun' of a parental ballot at their heads".

Primaries will be able to join school chains

Mr Brown also spoke of his own background and the "anger and frustration" of friends who were "denied a chance" in education - including university.

This comes against a background in which universities face unprecedented pressure on places.

Parents of children in the last year of primary school are also promised that their views will be surveyed - and where parents are not satisfied there will have to be an "action plan", with the option of a take-over by another education provider.

The government has announced a list of the first "kitemarked" organisations which will be allowed to take over other struggling schools.

These include successful state schools, universities and academy sponsors.

Mr Brown and Schools Secretary Ed Balls are setting out plans for chains of schools, to be headed by one of these approved leaders.

"I want to set off a chain reaction in our schools with these recognised brands merging with or taking over our weaker and coasting schools," says Mr Brown.

The ambition is for all schools to able to join such a chain within the next five years.

Political divide

For the first time primary schools, as well as secondary, will be able to join these chains of connected schools - with a focus on tackling underachievement in primary schools.

Accredited School Groups: Barnfield College, Luton; Outwood Grange, Wakefield; The Kemnal Trust, Bromley; Woodard Schools; Greenwood Dale Trust, Nottingham; The Harris Federation
Schools Providers: Middleton Technology College; Coloma Trust; Comberton Village College; St John the Baptist School; Dr. Challoner's Grammar School; The Compton School; St. Patrick's School; Wildern School; Chester University; Bradford College; Sunderland University; Hull College; Tudor Grange School

And there is a tough message to local authorities that they will be "instructed" to take action on underperforming schools, including the introduction of one of these accredited groups.

Writing on the Labour List blog, ahead of Mr Brown's speech, Mr Balls emphasised the importance of parental choice.

"If your local schools are not doing well enough, and if you are dissatisfied with the progress your local school is making, you will be able to demand change and get a new and quality-guaranteed provider."

And with the Conservatives making a centrepiece of their plans to enable parents to create their own schools - Mr Balls set out the political dividing lines.

"Compare this to the Conservative offer... they are saying to busy working parents that if they are dissatisfied with local state schools, your only option is for you to set up and run your own brand new school in the hope that it succeeds and that pupils eventually transfer from the weaker school."

The Conservatives' schools spokesman, Michael Gove, claimed the ballot plans were a political attempt by Mr Balls to "close down a dividing line".

"Real choice for parents means allowing new schools to open which are free from the control of politicians and therefore properly answerable to parents, not a ballot system allowing a tiny handful of existing schools to federate," he said.

Mr Gove promised that under a Conservative government "the hundred worst performing schools will re-open under new management within a year".

Liberal Democrat schools spokesman, David Laws said: "This is another top-down gimmick from a tired government desperate to divert attention from its failure to raise standards in our schools."

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