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Lib Dems execute policy U-turn by pledging to axe academies

Party promises Pounds 2.5 billion boost for a million poorer pupils and a new general diploma

Cross-party support for the controversial academies programme was blown wide apart yesterday when the Liberal Democrats said it would scrap the model when setting out its new education policy.

In a dramatic U-turn, Lib Dems made academies the biggest casualty in its fight to "narrow the gap" between state and private schools.

The party also said it intends to introduce a Pounds 2.5 billion pupil premium to boost funding for the 1 million most disadvantaged children. It would be funding that follows pupils from school to school.

In an interview with The TES, shadow education secretary David Laws said his party wanted to create a more "level playing field" for all schools nationally. "All schools should be able to benefit from the freedoms to innovate that are extended to academies, rather than pretending that what is good for academies is not also good for the rest of schools," he said.

"Giving schools more freedom is a good thing and can mean better results but for some bizarre reason, those freedoms are restricted to one or two hundred out of 23,500 schools across the country."

The new policy, the first from the Lib Dems in well over a year, sets out its plans to liberalise the education system.

The party says it would reform the national pay and conditions rules, giving more freedom to individual schools. It would also call on the General Teaching Council to set out a formal programme of continuous professional development.

A new general diploma is put forward, which would incorporate GCSEs, A-Levels and other vocational courses such as Btecs.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the change in power over schools from central to local government but warned that interfering in school business could still take place.

He said: "It is right to seek a new equilibrium between central government, local government and the individual schools. But the meddling of central government in schools must not be replaced by meddling from local government, since many local authorities do not have the experience that now exists in secondary schools."

Full interview, pages 30-31

Lib Dem proposals

- A pupil premium that would raise Pounds 2.5bn to help the 1 million most disadvantaged children and to cut class sizes for 5-7 year olds to around 15

- Scrap 600-page national curriculum and replace it with a slimmer minimum entitlement of around 20 pages

- Retain key stage 2 but produce slimmer version of national testing

- A new general diploma incorporating GCSEs, A-levels and vocational qualifications

- Replace Government's GCSE target with average points system

- General Teaching Council to be responsible for continuous professional development

- Give heads more freedom on pay, to help them recruit.

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