Skip to main content

Labour tightens the reins of power

'Targets, targets, targets' appears to be the Government's new mantra. In a three-page report The TES examines David Blunkett's grand plan which was unveiled earlier this week.

The first policy paper for almost two decades from a Labour Government sets out its ambitions to take central control of the education service.

David Blunkett and his advisers in the standards and effectiveness unit favour targets for everyone and specific instruction on how to teach literacy and numeracy.

The strategy for raising standards, set out in the White Paper Excellence in Schools, builds on the previous government's plans to set targets for schools and extends the principle to local authorities. Success is to be measured against a further set of national targets.

Unlike a traditional White Paper, the document does not list measures to be contained in legislation, but outlines a broad sweep of reforms and a vast range of initiatives in all areas of school and pre-school education.

In the main, its content appears to have at least been grudgingly accepted by the teacher unions. The local authorities believe they are to get increased powers over schools, tempered by greater scrutiny of their performance.

The legislation will give local authorities power to intervene in schools that have problems. They will, for example, be able to require such schools to produce action plans or appoint additional governors.

In turn, local authorities will find that funding dries up if they fail to provide an adequate development plan.

The complex edifice of target setting for schools is based on the vast amount of data generated by national tests for 7, 11, 14 and 16-year-olds. Authorities will have to advise schools on the interpretation of the raw figures and from next year the results will be adjusted to take account of the nature of the pupil intake.

The White Paper makes a virtue out of the paucity of detail on the new management structure of schools. There has been, says the paper, too much emphasis on structure. Ministers are hoping that the 1,100 grant-maintained schools will quietly opt to become either foundation or aided and gracefully accept the reductions in their budgets to bring them in line with the rest. In cases where governors and parents disagree, the Government intends to allow ballots.

In terms of dealing fairly with the allocation of school places, the White Paper offers local forums to ease the parental anguish caused by the array of differing admission policies.

The suggested arrangement is that heads and governors from all schools share information about their admission policies. The local authority will have to be consulted about admissions for foundation and aided schools and an independent adjudicator will hold the ring.

The future of grammar schools is left, as Labour promised in Opposition, in the hands of local parents. Specialist schools are to be encouraged, particularly in the deprived education action zones, and they are to be allowed to select pupils on the basis of aptitude.

The new deal for parents is greater representation. Their numbers on governing bodies are to be increased and they are to be drafted on to the education committees. It is unclear whether they will get voting rights.

For teachers, the White Paper promises greater prescription of teaching methods and closer scrutiny of performance. Inspections are to focus more closely on classroom practice. At primary-school level, consultants will be appointed to promote approved methods of teaching reading and a similar approach may be on the way for maths.

There is no indication that the Government has made any advance on its stated aim to speed up the process for dismissing poor teachers. The paper says only that consultations are under way.

In addition, the creation of a General Teaching Council may set ministers on a collision course with the two more militant unions, the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. The Government wants to legislate this year, but as yet there is no agreement on whether the unions are to be represented.

Ministers have managed to draft their grand plan at great speed; the more dfficult areas have been left for further consideration and extensive consultation.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you