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Heads attack 'simplistic' Labour

Labour's plans for raising standards in schools came under fire this week from one of the headteachers' unions for being too simplistic and lacking in detail.

The Secondary Heads Association said the policy document Excellence for Everyone drew on the work of a few academics and had been drafted without any input from the professional associations.

Underlying the criticism was the association's fear that a future Labour government might restore the power of local authorities to intervene in running schools.

John Sutton, SHA general secretary, said his members did not want to see any resurgence of direct control, and did not want to lose the managerial autonomy achieved through local management and grant-maintained status.

Mr Sutton said: "What schools want from local authorities is services, not partnership, and certainly not control."

Some proposals for dealing with failing schools were intrusive and any revival of local authorities' powers would demotivate teachers, he said.

The document, he said, failed to give any clear indication of the way schools would be governed, or the future of league tables, and did not state in detail the party's plans for the inspection service.

Proposals attacked by the union included the speeding-up of dismissal procedures for poor teachers, insistence on setting, and rules on minimum levels of homework.

Labour is accused of failing to grasp the complex problems created by its Fresh Start policy, whereby it would close failing schools and open a new school on the same site. Labour would, said SHA, find it needed to amend trade union and employment legislation to put the policy into practice. Mr Sutton said Labour's education team was banned from any mention of spending commitments, an embargo that restricted policy development. What heads wanted, he said, was fewer policies, better thought out.

However, the National Association of Head Teachers takes a more positive view. David Hart, the union's general secretary, believes that the proposals would help to raise standards and to improve teachers' performance.

"There are parts the NAHT takes issue with. The Labour party is over-reacting with its emphasis on getting rid of poor teachers. They are a small minority. However, I do not believe the Labour party is in the throes of harking back to pre-1988 in terms of restoring the powers of local authorities. For example, Labour is committed to increasing the share of education budgets that will be delegated to schools," he said.

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