DENYING the full curriculum to pupils who are struggling in the 3Rs will increase disaffection and disruption in schools, secondary heads have warned.
The Secondary Heads Association gave a frosty welcome to proposals by Conservative leader William Hague's to "exempt" pupils who have not mastered the basics from the rest of the national curriculum.
"It is crazy, for example, that pupils who are struggling to read, write and add up are forced by the national curriculum to move on to other lessons when the teachers who know them best think it would be most useful to consolidate their literacy," Mr Hague told the annual conference.
But SHA general secretary John Dunford said: "We are going to get some very bored and disaffected children. You have to have a system that gives children the richness and breadth of the curriculum as well as building those basic skills."
Mr Hague used his speech to reassert his party's "free schools" policy. His revelation that the policy had been inspired in part by a trip to a successful school in Harlem, New York, worried some. The Conservatives seemed to be drawing huge conclusions from a single example.
And his suggstion that newly-liberated schools would work together - as he claimed "happened spontaneously during the era of grant-maintained schools" - brought laughter and snorts of derision. The Tories still have a long way to go to win over heads.
The irony about Hague's position is that heads would be hard pressed to disagree with his analysis - that teachers are over-burdened, over-regulated and demoralised. But they have almost no sympathy with his conclusion that they need to be "set free" by the effective abolition of local education authorities and large sections of the Department for Education and Employment.
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, in his first speech to a teaching union since he took over from Paddy Ashdown, received a friendlier hearing. He won applause for attacks on the two-tier system teachers fear will result from Labour's policy on diversity in secondary education. He repeated his party's plans to add a penny to income tax - worth pound;3 billion a year, he said.
The move would help pay for a raft of proposals, including full salaries for trainee teachers and increased funding for books, equipment and school buildings.
The party would also cut back on bureaucracy and targets, simplify performance pay to reward continuous professional development instead of pupil results, and make school inspections more constructive.