So who's been listening?

15th April 2005 at 01:00
The Conservatives will give schools the freedom to run themselves and give teachers the professional status and protection they need to get on with the job.

Successive governments have given trust, freedom and favoured financial status to a few schools, rather than to them all. Labour seems determined to repeat this mistake in a third term. We have learned from it, and will make all schools - without exception - self-governing, grant-maintained, trusted and financially free.

Teachers are at risk: from a malicious or ignorant allegation of abuse; disruptive or violent pupils; compensation-crazed parents; and over-interference and excessive regulation. Our first piece of legislation would be a Teacher Protection Act giving teachers statutory anonymity (at least until a criminal charge is brought) when accused of abuse, scrapping appeals panels so that heads take the final decisions on exclusions, and giving schools new legal protection against being sued. We will get rid of multiple funding streams and complex bidding processes which make for absurd bureaucracy.

We will reduce the size and scope of the national curriculum from its present 80 per cent of the timetable to a maximum of 50 per cent. We must stop putting pupils through more tests and exams than any other European country. Coursework will be sharply reduced, AS-levels abolished, tests thinned out and simplified. We will keep more of the Tomlinson report than the Labour Government that commissioned it. A-levels should stay, but as part of a united academic and vocational diploma for every child in the country. Exam quality should be gauged by the rigour and robustness of the system, not the number of papers set, sat and marked.

Our aim is to make schools accountable downwards to their communities, not upwards to town hall and Whitehall. Layers of bureaucracy will be peeled back, with savings invested in funding made available to schools to spend at their discretion.

We will honour agreements such as workforce reform which we inherit, but we will cease the practice - a habit under successive governments - of ministers imposing obligations on schools without providing nearly enough funding to put them into practice. We will increase expenditure on schools by a third - up from pound;47 billion a year today to pound;62bn a year by the end of the decade. Taxpayers deserve to know that this money is well-spent. It will be - if we trust schools to spend it themselves as they see fit.

The choice before the voters on May 5 is very clear: they can either reward Mr Blair for eight years of broken promises and vote for another five years of talk; or they can vote Conservative, to support a party that has taken a stand and is committed to action on the issues that matter to hard-working Britons.

Tim Collins is the Conservative Party's education spokesman

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