Disappointed heads hit out

4th March 2005 at 00:00
Ruth Kelly will face the music over her 14-19 plans. William Stewart reports

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, can expect a rough ride from heads today when she speaks at her first teacher union conference.

Members of the Secondary Heads Association will express their frustration at her decision to stick to the status quo in her response to Sir Mike Tomlinson's report on 14 to 19 education.

John Dunford, SHA general secretary, said: "Members see this as a lost opportunity, maybe the only opportunity for a generation to create a coherent 14-19 qualifications structure and they are very disappointed."

SHA president Tim Andrew, headteacher of the selective Chesham high school, Buckinghamshire, will set the tone for the Brighton conference. He will say: "The Government has sacrificed the long-term educational needs of the country, agreed by a broad consensus of industry, universities, colleges and schools, to the short-term priorities of a general election."

Ms Kelly was criticised by Labour MPs and praised by Conservatives this week for her refusal to accept the Tomlinson proposals, when she appeared before the Commons education select committee. She was accused by Labour and Lib Dem members of "bottling out". They said that she had ignored majority support for the reforms in the education world to please the editors of The Sun and The Daily Mail. But Ms Kelly said parents supported her plans to retain A-levels and that she had received many positive comments from families in her Bolton constituency.

SHA members will have a chance to compare the Government's white paper and the Tomlinson report in detail tomorrow in a seminar being given by Ken Spours and Ann Hodgson, members of Sir Mike's working party.

The academics from London university's institute of education, long-term supporters of a baccalaureate-style qualification in England, will urge heads to join a "national resistance" against the Government's 14-19 proposals.

They will call for a grassroots movement to create a unified system of inclusive and collaborative strategies at school level.

Dr Spours said: "We feel the white paper is politically divisive and regressive. There is not only a sense of disappointment, there is a sense of rage. People are hopping mad. But although it is a setback things can still move forward. Nobody is giving up. The question is how you struggle for a better, more inclusive system."

The conference will also propose changing the union's name to reflect the fact that less than of third of its members are actually heads and that some work in colleges.

Names already suggested include the Education Leaders Association, the Professional Association of School and College Leaders (PASCol) or the School and College Leaders Association (SCoLA).

SHA was created from the merger of the Headmasters Association and the Association of Headmistresses in 1978. But since the admission of deputy heads in 1983 and assistant heads in the late 90s its membership has changed dramatically.

Mr Dunford said members needed to decide whether this should be reflected or whether to stick with a "well-established brand".

* william.stewart@tes.co.uk

Platform 21, leadership 30

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