Are you thinking what we thought?

15th April 2005 at 01:00
Labour's parent-power pledge was a Tory proposal in 1999, report Warwick Mansell and Michael Shaw

One of Labour's central manifesto pledges for education was first proposed more than five years ago by the Conservatives and strongly criticised by ministers at the time.

The promise to give parents the power to trigger inspections which could lead to headteachers being sacked is nearly identical to a pledge in the former Tory leader William Hague's "common sense revolution", launched in 1999.

That proposal would have given parents the right to ballot for an emergency inspection if they were concerned about a school. If inspectors backed the parents' view, the head and governors would lose their posts.

Estelle Morris, then the school standards minister, told BBC News Online in 1999 that parents could already raise concerns with the Office for Standards in Education and trigger inspections. Of Mr Hague's education plans, she said: "These proposals would do nothing to raise standards."

Labour's 2005 manifesto, published this week, states: "Ofsted will be given new powers to respond to parental complaints and, where necessary, to close failing schools."

But the policy has been attacked by many in education, including the leading parents' group.

Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said parents would feel uncomfortable launching complaints which could lead to the closure of a school. "It's passing the buck to parents and making them do the dirty work," she said.

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

"Labour's education manifesto talks of going forward not back, but this looks like a case of back to the future: it's a re-run of a Conservative policy of 1999."

The launch of Labour's education policies was undermined by comments by Harriet Harman, solicitor-general. The senior Labour MP told BBC's Daily Politics programme: "The choice of good local school (is) for a lot of people not a practical reality."

Another central Labour policy, giving successful secondaries a fast-track route to becoming foundation schools, has been strongly criticised by most respondents to a Government consultation, The TES learned this week. The move was first set out in the Government's five-year education plan last year and broadened to include successful primaries in the Labour manifesto.

The 128 respondents, 52 of which were local authorities, were largely opposed to the idea, arguing that the move would reduce local democratic accountability and hinder strategic planning on school places.

Another central Labour manifesto pledge, the move to encourage successful schools to expand, was broadly rejected.

Respondents said this could lead to a two-tier system of some schools booming while others were threatened with closure.

The details of the new inspection arrangements are yet to be clarified.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly suggested that inspectors could give schools a rating such as "new provider" or "new opportunity" which would be worse than special measures.

She was unable to explain how parents would trigger the inspections, saying that such details would develop after discussions between the Government, Ofsted and parents.

A Labour spokesman said there were similarities between the manifesto idea and Mr Hague's pledge, but added: "In 1999 ... the absolute priority was to get standards up and to focus on the really bad schools. We did not want to get distracted with other things.

"We have turned around a lot of failing schools. The next phase is to ensure that parents can act as partners in the education system."

There was some good news for Labour, however, as David Hart, outgoing general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said he "infinitely preferred" the party's education plans to those of the Conservatives.


election 6, 7 platform 21

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