Set schools free to be creative

20th October 2000 at 01:00
I THINK that your reporter and I must have attended different fringe meetings at the Conservative party conference.

It was impossible for anyone expressing reservations on Free Schools to "receive the strongest rounds of applause", or indeed any applause at all, because it was a question-and-answer session in which no questioner was applauded. And second, we were too occupied with the wine and canapes supplied by the National Union of Teachers to clap.

I was impressed by the efforts of the NUT to engage in a constructive debate on Conservative education policy, although of course there remain a number of areas where we disagree.

The union particularly welcomed education spokeswoman Theresa May's commitment to support teachers falsely accused by pupils.

As an ethnic minority achievement grant teacher in an inner-city school, I strongly believe that we need Free Schools, as they mean two important things. First, the national curriculum will be slimmed down to an essential core. Second, more money will go directly to the schools.

A proper 21st-century education system requires new courses and directions, built on a core curricuum. We can guarantee standards and set children's creativity free at the same time, so ending the sterile argument that we must choose one over the other.

At the meeting I pointed out that we need an independent professional body which has the ear of government but is truly independent of government. It must not become yet another vehicle for government initiatives.

The draft code with 42 things we must do is not a good sign. I also stressed that it is essential that governing bodies and appeal panels do not return an outrageously disruptive pupil to school to corrode discipline and learning. All of these sentiments received the strongest round of applause of any speaker from the floor.

The national curriculum was a great step forward because it set a standard guarantee that, regardless of ethnic or social origin, every child has the right to a decent start in life. Conservatives freely admit that it was made too complicated and burdensome, but the right lessons have been learned. That sentiment received a strong round of applause too, and support from Theresa May.

Francis Lankester

82 Byfield Rise


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