Blairite calls for more parent power

9th April 2004 at 01:00
Michael Shaw Parents should be able to sack headteachers, governors and senior staff at failing schools, the former school standards minister Stephen Byers has proposed.

The Blairite MP outlined the idea in a speech this week in which he called for greater choice in public services.

Mr Byers, a former education minister and transport secretary, told the pro-market Social Market Foundation that choice should be a matter for groups of people as well as individuals. An example of this "collective choice", he said, was parents of children attending a failing school being able to replace heads, senior teachers and governing bodies and decide who should take their place.

He did not go into detail about how this scheme would work, but said it would mean "taking over some of the powers which at present reside in the local authority".

Mr Byers has used speeches and newspaper articles before to float ideas favoured by Mr Blair's advisers. Downing Street officials are known to favour expanding parental choice while increasing schools' independence from local authorities.

Mr Byers also argued that restrictions on pupil numbers and on closing schools should be lifted to give parents greater choice.

"Parental choice needs to be made real and not just an opportunity to express a preference," he said. "The paternalistic model of public services failed to tackle inequalities. Indeed in many respects it reinforced them."

The Conservative party has said it also wants to give parents greater choice by allowing popular schools to expand and by scrapping rules relating to surplus places. David Willetts, the Tories' policy chief, told the SMF earlier in the week that the party was "providing the money so that what parents choose can be realised".

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, dismissed the idea of letting parents sack heads and governors as "pure 1990s market-led twaddle".

"It would open up the floodgates for any small group of disaffected parents to try to undermine a head, rather than creating a proper system of accountability," he said. "Fortunately Stephen Byers is no longer an education minister."

The National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations said it was interested in any moves which would give parents greater power, but wanted more details.

The Department for Education and Skills said it would not comment on the proposals because Mr Byers had been speaking in a personal capacity.

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