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Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 15:46 GMT

Conservatives: Education policies

Find out more about the Conservative Party's policies on education.

Education is a matter devolved to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies - and Westminster MPs have little influence over education policy in these parts of the United Kingdom. For more information see our full guide to devolution.


A "free schools" policy would see a free market solution applied to the state education system, with every school allowed to set its own admissions policy.

This would allow every school to become a selective, grammar-style school, where parental demand was judged to be strong enough to justify it.

Schools could set their own tests or apply whatever admissions grounds they thought appropriate.

Under these proposals, difficulties in getting places in the most sought-after schools would be tackled by allowing the most popular schools to expand. Funding would follow pupil numbers and schools would grow or contract in response to the demand for places.


The Tories believe that their "free schools" policy will rationalise education spending.

They say that if this system had been in place in 1998-99, then each school would on average have had an extra 540 per pupil due to savings from bureaucracy and non-essential LEA services.

The shadow education secretary, Theresa May, has suggested that schools might club together to buy services they cannot provide themselves.

The "free schools" policy envisages a more streamlined role for LEAs.

Local authorities will have a role in providing educational welfare, identifying children who have special educational needs and in discharging their responsibility to provide a school place for every child."

But crucially, says the party, it will lead to more freedom for headteachers to shape the character of the school.

Parents would also have the right to call for a special Ofsted inspection of a school if they fear that it is failing. If the inspectors confirm that view, the management would be changed.


The Conservatives expressed outrage at the Labour government's charges of elitism after state school pupil Laura Spence was rejected by Oxford University.

They were further angered when a Commons education select committee enquiry refused to criticise the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, for his comment that it was an "absolute scandal" that Laura was refused a place.

But the party says it is committed to fair access to universities and colleges for all.

The Tories say they would scrap tuition fees, saying higher education should be "accessible, irrespective of the ability to pay".

Universities would be encouraged to break away from government control through endowments.

This would be funded by future government receipts from, for example, auctions of radio spectrum, privatisation proceeds and asset sales.

In return, universities must provide proper access funds for the "most deserving students".


Teacher shortages have been seized upon by the Conservatives as an example that Labour has failed to deliver on education.

The party says that while Labour has made great claims for improving school standards, the reality is pupils being sent home because there are not enough teachers.

The Conservatives say that allowing schools greater flexibility over pay will help to tackle the teacher shortage. Under the "free schools" policy, schools could set their own pay rates, which will allow heads to target staff budgets towards shortage areas.

This break-up of a national pay structure would also allow salaries to reflect differences in regional economies and cost of living, the party believes.


The Conservatives have hit out at the Labour government for a rise in secondary school class sizes, saying it has been "selective with statistics".

The Shadow Education Secretary, Theresa May, has accused the government of chasing "political targets" rather than supporting schools and of "conveniently ignoring" the fact that secondary school class sizes were increasing.

But while the Tories want class sizes for pupils over the age of 11 to fall, they have not yet committed themselves to a target figure.

The Tories are fiercely opposed to the idea of keeping disruptive pupils in schools and would abolish targets for reducing the number of expelled pupils.

Excluded children would be sent to "Progress Centres" away from mainstream schools, the party leader, William Hague, has promised.

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