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New age of 'sackability'

Queen's speech unveils plans to give parents power to call in Ofsted inspectors. Jon Slater reports

Inspectors are expected to be given the power to sack heads and other senior school staff as part of a reform package announced in the Queen's speech this week.

Measures to increase parent power and choice and to tackle failing schools are also at the heart of the first Education Bill of Labour's third term.

Parents will be given the power to call in inspectors and set up their own schools, while inspectors will be given the power to speed up the closure of failing schools.

Heads accused the Government of engaging in "macho politics" and said the plans to give Ofsted powers to sack headteachers had not been properly thought through. Teachers' unions are also angry about the lack of consultation on the proposals.

The Education Bill, the 12th in the eight years since Labour came to power, could be Tony Blair's final attempt to put his mark on schools before he leaves office.

It will be preceded by a white paper, expected in September, setting out the proposals in more detail. But the Government is likely to face opposition from its own backbenchers over attempts to increase private involvement in state schools.

The Government said the Bill would welcome new educational providers into the state system if there is enough demand locally, but stressed that new schools would have to operate a fair admissions system. New providers could include private firms, faith groups and parents.

The proposals echo those made after the 2001 election, which had little impact after the Government backed down over controversial plans to allow private firms to take over the emnployment of teachers.

Moves to allow primaries to emulate secondaries and become foundation schools by a simple vote of their governors are seen as a possible solution to the problem.

Unlike community schools, foundation schools employ their own staff and own their own buildings.

Other measures include:

* the right for parents to make daily checks on their children's progress using computers

* a tailored package of learning and support for every child

* plans to send disruptive children to boarding school; and lthe re-introduction of plans contained in the pre-election School Transport Bill to allow local education authorities to extend charges for school buses.

An Ofsted spokeswoman said that details of powers to remove senior staff and allow parents to call in inspectors have yet to be decided.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that allowing Ofsted to remove senior staff would deny heads natural justice and poison relations between schools and Ofsted.

He added: "The chief inspector ought to be really worried about these wrong-headed proposals. This is macho politics designed to demonstrate to the electorate that the Government is brimming with ideas."

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said:

"Teachers will fear that unrepresentative groups kicking up a fuss at the school gates could have too much influence over a school to the detriment of all the children."

* An alternative Queen's speech was presented at Westminster by Ishen Stewart Dowding, a 14-year-old pupil at St Thomas More school in Haringey, north London.

Ishen said: "A few years back we had no fridge, lived off basic food and were short of clothes. It brings down your confidence and makes you less secure. It affects you at school. It is embarrassing."

Her speech, organised by the End Child Poverty campaign, called for more money to be given to schools who educate poor children.


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