Labour to axe school boards

1st March 1996 at 00:00
Sweeping reforms include power to close failing schools and sack incompetent teachers

The Scottish Labour Party is today (Friday) expected to launch a battery of tough and tender initiatives to raise education standards and restore the status of the teaching profession. But its balancing act is to recommend closing schools that continue to fail, removing bad teachers and introducing specialist training for aspiring headteachers.

The document, to be presented to the Scottish conference next weekend by Helen Liddell, the party's education spokeswoman, draws on the best practice of Labour authorities in Scotland and borrows the firm policies of David Blunkett, the party's spokesman south of the border. Among a raft of proposals, Labour proposes to: * scrap school boards and replace them with a school commission in every school; * force schools to draw up a "compact" with parents and pupils which sets out rights and responsibilities; * expand the role of the General Teaching Council to develop and monitor teaching standards; * develop a twin-track promotion structure for staff who see their main role in the classroom; * investigate sabbaticals and study visits for experienced teachers; * employ classroom assistants to ease teacher workload.

The paper condemns Conservative dogma for creating divisions in schools, although Labour has now accepted strong action on standards, accountability and parental involvement.

Some of the toughest initiatives are reserved for teachers. Every Child is Special: A Compact for Scotland's Future states: "We will restore to our teachers the status they deserve. That means addressing the problems of the bad, as well as celebrating the achievements of the good . . . Those who are ill-suited to such a significant profession should be replaced by competent and committed teachers."

Local authorities and teachers' associations will be invited to devise mechanisms to remove bad teachers "rapidly and with the minimum of fuss".

Labour maintains teachers need help and encouragement to offset the demoralising effect of Tory policies. Although the party will back appraisal and individual target setting, it deems as "absurd" the notion that the best teachers have to leave the classroom to gain promotion. It is recommended that senior teachers should be used as "professional pace setters", helping out with probationers and lending their experience elsewhere in the school.

The party plans to introduce a new qualification, similar to a master's degree, for teachers who want to become heads. Secondment to industry and commerce would be a compulsory element. Those who complete the studies would have their names placed on a register of qualified staff ready to take over a school.

Heads who fail to live up to expectations will be allowed "a dignified route into another job or early retirement".

On standards and accountability, Labour does not say it will scrap publication of raw examination results. Instead, it aims to provide fuller information for parents with "added-value" components based on socio-economic background. Schools will be expected to set and publish their own performance targets annually, building on previous best performance.

"Where a school consistently fails to meet nationally agreed standards, or fails to achieve necessary improvements identified by an HMI inspection, it will be the subject of special attention," the report states. It will be up to the local authority to act and report to the Scottish Secretary and the relevant minister in a Scottish parliament.

Ultimately, the minister will have "reserve powers" to close any school judged to be below par.

Labour accepts parental choice of school but stresses that with more "valid information about school performance" parents will be able to make more "informed choices". Under its plan for individual contracts between schools and parents, the party wants more consistent setting of homework with a network of homework clubs as part of a negotiated personal curriculum for pupils. Every child will be expected to read and count by the age of seven. Local authorities would be invited to pilot "compacts" with parents and pupils to fine-tune the detail.

School boards will be replaced by a commission, with elected and co-opted members. Parents, teachers, senior management staff, local businessmen and health and social work professionals associated with the school would join.

The future of Scotland's two opted-out schools, Dornoch Academy and St Mary's Episcopal primary, Dunblane, would lie within the local authorities, the document states.

Stressing the tough rather than the tender side of Labour' education thinking, Mr Blunkett this week delivered a stinging attack south of the border on comprehensive schools that failed pupils and enforced drab uniformity in the name of fairness.

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