PM pledges to confuse the parents

11th March 2005 at 00:00
So how will schools provide every pupil with small-group tuition and the personal attention their parents want?

It is a question that has been baffling teachers and parents since the Prime Minister pledged last week that Labour would give all pupils a tailored education.

Schools have grown used to the rhetoric about "personalised learning" from ministers.

But Tony Blair's announcement was more detailed. It suggested pupils could expect small-group tuition, either one-to-one or in classes of three and four, possibly during the school day or after it.

Labour policy advisers said the party did not want to dictate to schools precisely how they should provide the support and that it would be up to headteachers to work it out with parents.

Pressed about where the funding would come from, the Prime Minister and Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, said schools already had it in their budgets.

The answer failed to convince heads and parents' groups.

Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said: "Parents are a lot of things, but they are not stupid.

"The parent-power proposals seem to have been created on the back of an envelope and then posted before anyone checked the spelling."

Families clearly like the idea of one-to-one tuition, making it a potential vote-winner. Research published last year suggested that one in four parents employs private tutors for their children.

However, Judy Ireson of London university's institute of education, who carried out the study, said that such tuition could be less effective in schools. "The evidence in favour of tutoring is a mixed picture," Professor Ireson said. "There are some extremely effective programmes, but if teachers are not specially trained in working with pupils one-to-one they can find it hard, especially when they are with children who have difficulties learning."

While the Government talks about empowering families, parents' groups complain that several of their rights are being quietly taken away.

They believe Labour's promises to give parents greater power in schools are at odds with the party's policies. They said it was misleading for Mr Blair to say specialist schools, academies and plans for more foundation schools mean parents are far more involved in the running of the school.

Most schools are expected to have at least two parent governors, with four or five usually on governing bodies of secondary schools. Academies need have only one, however, as would the new-style foundation schools which the Government will start creating later this year.

The new foundation schools, which will be responsible for admissions and staffing, will be able to gain the new status after a vote at one governors' meeting.

Jane Phillips, former chair of the National Association of School Governors, said: "There's a lack of joined-up thinking. The Government says it wants more parental involvement but also wants fewer parents on governing bodies."

The NCPTA said the changes to governing bodies were the latest in a series of government plans that would reduce parental involvement, including scrapping the annual report from governors to families and ending the meeting that inspectors hold with parents.

David Bell, chief inspector, said this week that he hoped to make inspections even more responsive to parents' views and that inspectors would expect schools to demonstrate how they consulted families.

SHA conference report 16

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