Hague preaches the virtues of freedom

8th September 2000 at 01:00
Plan to scrap education authorities attacked as 'unworkable'. Sarah Cassidy reports.

FREEING every school from local-authority control will be at the heart of the Conservative party's vision for education, William Hague confirmed this week.

Launching the Tories' pre-manifesto document, the party's leader re-stated his commitment to "free schools" saying that every school would set its own admissions, discipline, uniform and pay policies.

However the policy was condemned as unworkable by political opponents and local authority organisations.

Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said the plans were "an expensive, bureaucratic nightmare" and would lead to "schools choosing parents, not parents choosing schools".

Chris Waterman, general secretary of the Society of Education Officers, said:

"If schools set their own admissions policies it will be impossible for authorities to guarantee every child a place. There could be a huge number of children which no school will accept. Where will they be educated?"

Schools minister Estelle Morris claimed the plans would mean sacking 6,000 primary teachers as the Tories scrapped funds to cut class sizes. She also said that school bus services in rural areas, and for church and special schools, would be axed.

Some Conservative councillors are also concerned. Peter Bettison, leader of Bracknell Forest Council in Berkshire, urged Mr Hague to make the initiative voluntary for some schools, saying small primaries in particular would suffer.

Under the Tory plan, schools would receive funding directly, through a per-pupil formula that would have been equivalent to an extra pound;540 per pupil last year.

Councils ould still provide educational welfare services, identify special needs pupils and ensure every child had a school place.

The Conservatives would scrap targets for exclusions, literacy and numeracy test scores and slim down the national curriculum to give teachers more flexibility.

Shadow education secretary Theresa May said literacy and numeracy targets for primaries had affected able children. "Teachers are being forced to concentrate on borderline pupils," she said.

She added that a Tory government would publish value-added league tables rather than rank schools according to raw test and exam scores.

Mr Hague also said that Britain's universities would be independent of government control and get financial freedom. He said he would use cash from windfalls such as the mobile-phone licence auction to endow universities with billions. This would help them to pay salaries that could attract world-class academics.

But the Government claimed the plans would mean a hike in university tuition fees.

Leader, 18

KEY CONSERVATIVE POLICIES FOR SCHOOLS

Heads and governors will set school admissions, discipline, uniform and pay policies.

The national curriculum will be cut to give teachers more flexibility.

Literacy, numeracy and exclusion targets will be scrapped. Excluded pupils will go to "progress centres", not mainstream schools.

Inspectors will be able to conduct spot-inspections. Concerned parents will be able to demand inspections. If the inspector agrees with parents' criticisms, the school's management will be changed.

Schools will receive their funding directly. Local education authorities will not exist in their currrent form.


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