Page last updated at 13:10 GMT, Tuesday, 13 April 2010 14:10 UK

Cameron's parent school promise

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education correspondent

David Cameron with manifesto
David Cameron tells parents to "be your own boss"

Conservative leader David Cameron has made an election centrepiece of plans to allow parents and other providers to set up schools with state funding.

Launching his party's manifesto, Mr Cameron has promised parents "the power to get a good new school in your community".

The manifesto also says all schools, including primaries, will be able to have the autonomy of academy status.

And there is a commitment that all pupils should read by the age of six.

Mr Cameron, setting out his policies for the election, invited voters to "be your own boss".

The Conservatives also promised to make this the most "family friendly country in Europe".

'Break down barriers'

In terms of education, the flagship policy is for "free schools", which will allow parents or other providers to set up their own schools, using public money.

The intention is to invigorate the school system by giving more choice to parents, particularly in areas where there are worries about the standards of local schools.

In response, the NASUWT teachers' union accused the plan of "throwing state schools to the mercy of the free market to gamble with, and profit from, tax-payers' money".

Drawing on the experiences of such schools in Sweden and charter schools in the United States, the Conservative manifesto promises to "break down barriers to entry so that any good education provider can set up a new academy school".

But the manifesto does not set out the scale of such an expansion - with no reference to an earlier promise to create an extra 220,000 school places.

Labour has claimed that this has been "dropped" because of concerns over funding - a claim rejected by the Conservatives.

"No pledge has been dropped. The 220,000 figures is a floor not a target," said a Conservative spokesman.

There have also been claims from Labour that the free school policy will lead to profit-making companies taking a larger role in state-funded schools - but the manifesto does not set out details of who might or might not be allowed to run schools.

Reading test

The manifesto also sets out plans to raise the standards of teaching - with the expectation that entrants to teaching should have at least a 2:2 degree.

There are plans for a "more rigorous curriculum" which will require that every child "who is capable of reading" should be able to do so after two years in primary schools - which will be assessed by a test.

The Sats tests taken by 11 year olds in England - and the accompanying league tables - will also be retained.

State secondary schools will be able teach international GCSEs, currently available in independent schools.

Chris Keates, leader of the NASUWT teachers' union, described the proposals for school as "seductive but deceptive".

She rejected the idea that the free schools policy would give more power to parents.

"When the private and voluntary sectors and the pushy and the privileged have had their fill, they will walk away leaving segregated communities, social division, inequality and thousands of children and young people whose life chances have been sacrificed."



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