Jeremy Sutcliffe talks to a Tory leader determined to prove his party has changed.
William Hague will make education reform a centrepiece of next week's Conservative party conference in Blackpool, setting out sweeping plans to deregulate schools and give more decision-making powers to parents.
In an exclusive interview in today's TES, Mr Hague goes out of his way to woo teachers and parents, stressing his own comprehensive-school background. He insists his party has changed and reveals that he would like to see a majority of ministers in a future Tory cabinet sending their own children to state schools.
His view, which is likely to put him at odds with some senior colleagues, reflects Tory worries that the party is perceived to be out of touch with ordinary people's concerns.
At Blackpool, Mr Hague and shadow education secretary Theresa May will lead a new Tory offensive against Labour's education policies, accusing ministers of strangling schools with Whitehall directives and tying up millions of hours of teachers' time in unnecessary bureaucracy.
Mr Hague is thought to be considering allowing parents the right to vote on selection policies, which could create new grammar schools. And he is set to underline his party's faith in the grant-maintained sector, abolished by Labour, with a pledge to extend such freedoms to all schools.
The Tories will use their Blackpool conference to outline their first major policy statement on education since Mr Hague took over the leadership following the election defeat two years ago.
The scale of that defeat prompted a fundamental rethink on key education policies, with shadow ministers conducting a major "listening exercise" to discover the views of parents, school heads, teachers and pupils.
Their views are understood to have shaped the conference's key education themes which will be: "setting schools free", "letting teachers teach" and "increasing parental choice".
Mr Hague says he will use the Blackpool conference to propose "a major extension of the freedom of schools to manage".
Asked whether he was planning to extend GM status to all schools, he said: "We're very much going in that direction and we will actually set out some of the regulations and controls that we will get rid of."
The Tory leader denied that he had any plans to establish a grammar school in every town. "That's not the policy of the Conservative party. But it is our policy to allow different areas to have different structures of education."
Mr Hague declined to say whether he was considering giving parents the right to ballot on whether schools should be able to start selecting pupils.
But he said the policies he intended to outline would mean greater diversity of provision and more decision-making at school level. The proposals would also affect schools' relationships with education authorities.
Mr Hague also attacked Tony Blair's plans to force schools to set targets to reduce the number of pupils they exclude, saying heads should be able to determine their own policies for disciplining pupils.
Exclusive interview in Friday magazine, page 6 Theresa May is expected to announce plans to tackle truancy and disruption in Blackpool next week, including a proposal to allow less academic 14-year-olds to opt out of parts of the national curriculum to enable them to do more vocational education and on-the-job training.
Interview: Friday magazine.
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