Labourfails to reassure GM heads

8th March 1996 at 00:00
East of England grant-maintained school heads are seeking talks with shadow education secretary David Blunkett over the future for their sector under a Labour government.

Anne Campbell, one of Labour's education team, failed to allay fears when she met more than 100 of them last week. Claims that the local education authority they would be expected to work with would be a different animal were greeted with cries of "But it's still an animal".

And her suggestions that expertise lay with the LEA, which would act as facilitator not dictator, were met with shouts of "No".

But it was her acknowledgement that politicians were short of ideas that drew perhaps the most derision. Mrs Campbell, MP for Cambridge, told the heads: "What we are often short of in politics is ideas because there isn't time to think. It is a very hectic life."

She denied accusations that Labour's education policies were deliberately obscure, and defended Harriet Harman's decision to send her son to a selective school outside her constituency.

"I don't think anyone - Labour politician or not - should try to defend the indefensible by sending their child to a school in which that child won't flourish," she said.

Mrs Campbell was addressing the East of England conference of the grant-maintained schools' advisory committee in Cambridge.

She was one of three speakers - the others were David Hargreaves, professor of education at Cambridge University's Institute of Education, and Peter Shaw, director for school places, buildings and governance at the Department for Education and Employment.

While Professor Hargreaves told delegates they were at the leading edge of reinventing the profession and Mr Shaw reeled off a string of GM successes, Mrs Campbell appeared to offer them little hope.

With ministers claiming analysis of GCSE performance tables over three years showed opted-out schools had made more progress than LEA schools in raising standards year on year, the heads wanted to know how Labour would help them improve yet further.

But Alan Roach, head of Chalvedon School, Basildon, said: "She didn't have anything to say about how GM schools and our pupils would flourish and improve in the new system. How could we come out of today's meeting with any optimism?"

Ros Clayton, chairman of the East of England group and head of Comberton Village College, near Cambridge, added: "It is good we are listening to the Opposition and able to ask questions and get responses, but . . . she said they were bereft of ideas and I agree."

Joan Binder, chair of governors at The Plume, Maldon, Essex, added: "We have to continue the dialogue. We have to take the initiative and make things happen."

In the meantime, Mrs Campbell offered two crumbs of comfort -the GM heads would continue to receive extra money for their additional responsibilities, and under Labour's plans for community (LEA), aided (church) and foundation (GM) schools, community schools could still opt for foundation status.

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