Tories who never learn;Leading Article

8th October 1999 at 01:00
THE Scottish Conservatives, who unlike their counterparts south of the border have had to face the electorate in a recent national test, have pioneered the party's thinking on education. William Hague, forced into following the priorities of the Prime Minister, has put education at the heart of his appeal to the nation, and does so by setting the role and rights of parents above those of teachers and administrators. The Tory campaign for the Scottish Parliament struck a similar note, with schools (and their customers) asked to take on functions currently fulfilled by local government.

The principle of parents calling the shots may resonate in middle England, or at least to parts where grammar schools are fighting for their existence or parents are dissatisfied with the quality of public education. But the appeal of Mr Hague's pledges is limited.

In many parts of the country, including Scotland, parents are either broadly content with their children's school or do not see the local authority as the barrier to progress. They know that this Government like its predecessor is committed to increasing the budgetary autonomy of schools, and that is as far as they envisage change.

A decade ago the Tories learnt the hard way that parents do not want to run schools. They haven't the time, inclination or expertise. They want a say in their children's education and a readier response from teachers to their concerns than traditionally was often the case. But as elections to school boards and English governing bodies have shown, the democratic process stutters if it is supposed to produce debate and a vying for position by parents.

Beyond that, the risible notion that headships should be at the disposal of parental whim discredits the whole of Tory policy.

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