Forsyth fires election salvo

31st January 1997 at 00:00
Standards and quality to be key themes as White Paper signals Tory battleground. Compulsory appraisal, with powers to remove ineffective teachers, testing in the first two years of secondary school, selection within schools and an extension of the assisted places scheme are likely to be at the heart of the Conservatives' education manifesto, disguised as a White Paper and launched in Glasgow today (Friday) by Michael Forsyth, the Scottish Secretary, and Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr Forsyth will defend what he calls the party's impressive achievement in raising standards and quality, the key phrases in the long awaited Tory blueprint.

Statutory appraisal of teachers, which could lead to the removal of poor teachers, is likely to be one of the most controversial proposals and follows Government concern about the low numbers appraised. Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, promised further action when he addressed Roman Catholic headteachers last May.

Only a third of teachers have gone through the appraisal process, although the Government expected the programme to have been completed by the end of the current school session. Most councils have put it on the back-burner because of financial restraints and teacher opposition to extra workload.

In an effort to steal Labour's clothes, Mr Forsyth is set to extend the role of the General Teaching Council into appraisal, staff development and training and back its suggestions for removing ineffective teachers from the register.

Mr Forsyth, who is launching his party's plans in Glasgow, is also expected to emphasise the divide between what he considers good and bad schools by publicly crediting effective schools, a theme recently espoused by the Prime Minister who is keen to see grammar schools in every town. The Scottish nose to the policy will emphasise schools with high performance in the Scottish Office's tables on examinations, costs and attendance.

The initiative will build on the cherished policy of parental choice, another key theme. Mr Forsyth can point to figures that show greater numbers of pupils achieving better examination results at Standard grade and Higher and some 40 per cent of school-leavers entering higher education.

The Secretary of State will also extend the powers of the Inspectorate. It is believed HMIs will be given a role in assessing education authorities' quality control systems as well as individual schools.

Schemes for devolved school management will also be given a boost, further eroding the control of local authorities, while the minister will emphasise key initiatives such as the decision to put Pounds 9 million into early intervention programmes over three years.

Other targets are setting in the first two years of secondary school, compulsory national testing in S1 and S2 and extra work on "added-value" information for parents.

Mr Forsyth has already revealed that the White Paper will trail plans for a review body on teacher pay, while Mr Robertson has promised home-school contracts.

The Scottish Secretary will underline the party's commitment to positive discipline policies by emphasising progress on attendance, truancy, exclusions and overall school ethos. He is expected to highlight Mr Robertson's announcement two weeks ago that Pounds 1 million will be made available for alternatives to exclusion.

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