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Branch out on your own, say Tories

The Conservatives want teachers and parents to set up and run state-funded schools. Jon Slater reports

TEACHERS should be allowed to use public money to set up their own schools, shadow education secretary Damian Green said this week.

Mr Green told The TES that the idea would appeal to teachers who wanted to run schools but did not want to leave the state sector.

State scholarships would give inner-city parents the freedom to use the money currently spent on their children's education to set up schools with less central control.

The schools would be run by existing educational, voluntary or church groups, or perhaps by parents themselves. Mr Green said teachers canvassed had shown interest in the idea.

New schools could be set up even if there were existing surplus places in the area, provided applicants could prove parental demand.

Mr Green attempted to allay fears that the proposal amounted to a voucher system for schools, a goal long cherished by right-wing Conservatives, by saying that "initially" parents would not be allowed to use the money to send children to private schools.

"The idea is to set up a new sector funded by the state but not run by it."

The Conservative consultation document No Child Left Behind: the way ahead, which was published yesterday, will be followed in the new year by two pamphlets covering curriculum reform and vocational education.

An education commission headed by Sir Robert Balchin, former head of the Grant Maintained Schools Foundation, will look at how the proposals can be put into practice.

This week's pamphlet argues for a "completely new approach, based on politicians withdrawing from (the) day-to-day management" of schools. It decries the fact that teachers now make up only 42 per cent of staff in schools and says more money should go to the education front-line.

An extra pound;1.14 billion could be made available to schools by forcing local education authorities to devolve more cash and by increasing direct funding to schools, the document says. However, the Conservative party fails to say it will match the Government's spending on education.

Headteachers and governing bodies should be given greater control over teachers' pay and conditions to allow them to respond to local teacher shortages.

It also pledges to "end political interference in the exam system" by replacing the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority with a body "as operationally independent as the Bank of England".

AS-levels would be scrapped to reduce pupils' burden, while teachers would benefit from reduced bureaucracy and a tougher line on exclusions, including the previously announced scrapping of appeals panels and legally enforceable home-school contracts, the Conservatives promise.

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