Tories unite in mission to 'free' schools

30th June 2000 at 01:00
THE rancour and infighting that overshadowed the Scottish Tory conference in Dundee at the weekend did not extend to education. There was no dissent, publicly at least, from the new party line: neuter the local authorities. All schools must be removed from council control and handed over to their own communities, delegates agreed.

Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, was the spectre at the feast.

Mr Galbraith's choice for his children of the independently managed Jordanhill School while insisting that the only opted-out school, St Mary's Episcopal primary in Dunblane, be handed back to its local authority, was repeatedly used to highlight claims of Labour double standards and hypocrisy - also the themes of the leader's speech from William Hague.

It was David McLetchie, the party's Scottish parliamentary leader, who set the tone, declaring that the education Bill "entrenches the power of local bureaucrats at the expense of parents although, of course, some parents are more equal than others" - another ghostly intrusion by Mr Galbraith.

Mr McLetchie added: "Schools should be run by their own local communities. Our schools could then develop in a way that reflects the needs and aspirations of pupils and parents, while teachers would be fee to get on with what they do best - teaching."

Moving the education motion which called for the move, Scott Campbell, the party's candidate for Kirkcaldy, attacked the "corrosive effects" of the "left-wing establishment", led by the Educational Institute of Scotland and local authorities. Schools must be empowered and given more autonomy, including freedom to shape the curriculum and appoint staff.

Parents and staff at St Mary's primary, the very embodiment of "real devolution", were hailed as "heroes" by Alastair Orr, the party's candidate for Edinburgh Central, who is a teacher. Ian Whyte, the candidate in Edinburgh West, reinforced the party's themes of diversity and choice which were being eroded by, among other things, "inappropriate" targets for exclusion.

Brian Monteith, the Tories' education spokesman, slammed - yet again - Mr Galbraith's "hypocrisy" and said the "radical but popular" model for the way forward was New Zealand where schools had been put in the hands of parents and teachers 10 years ago.

There was one indication of a lesson learnt from the failure of the previous opt-out policy as Mr Monteith suggested that secondary schools be grouped into community boards with local primaries "so no school need be isolated".


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