Tory with community spirit

18th July 1997 at 01:00
Frances Rafferty talks to Stephen Dorrell, shadow education spokesman, about his fear that power is going to Labour's head

Teachers and schools will no longer be able to respond to the wishes of their community under the Government's plans to give the Education Secretary increased powers of prescription.

So says Stephen Dorrell, thenew Conservative education spokesman, in his first interview following the Government's White Paper Excellence in Schools.

"What I am against is the idea that there a task force in Sanctuary Buildings (the DFEE headquarters) which is the repository of all wisdom and whose views should be carried out according to some formula in every school in the land," he said.

"What matters is that we raise standards in literacy and numeracy and that we have the machinery for ensuring that good experience and good practice is generalised and bad practice challenged.

"I want to see a system that is locally managed and where the individual teacher within a school, led by the head, is given the opportunity to develop their own ideas on how standards are delivered."

He said it is not the job of a Government minister to determine how many hours children spend on their homework and to tell primary teachers that they must spend a set time on reading and numeracy every day.

Mr Dorrell is to address the Council of Local Education Authorities' conference in Bristol today. He admits it is not perhaps the most sympathetic of audiences for his public debut, especially as he has made it clear he does not support giving councils a bigger role in education as proposed in last week's Government White Paper.

He said: "The key relationships for a school are with the parents and the community and not county hall.

"The move back in the direction of an LEA-administered education service and a more powerful role for the Department for Education and Employment are both steps in the wrong direction in structural terms, and each step will undermine the delivery of highly professional standards in schools."

He said schools will again see themselves as accountable to county hall and not the community they serve. It will also result in a plethora of paperwork, with all sorts of plans and strategies being batted from schools to councils and councils to the DFEE.

Mr Dorrell said while he welcomed many of the aspirations in the White Paper he was concerned that so much of the detail is yet to be decided. He said if the Government intends to bring out a major, 200-clause Bill in the autumn with many issues, such as admissions criteria, unresolved it could find itself with an ill-written and problematic piece of legislation.

The Conservatives are not about to reveal their own policies. Mr Dorrell's deputy, David Willetts, is also deputy to Peter Lilley in his role as reviewer of all Tory policy. Mr Dorrell said this should prevent education policy within the party going in different directions - alluding to the problems his predecessor had with Downing Street.

He does find it a nonsense that the Government has said it wants to expand specialist schools but will prevent the school interviewing prospective pupils. "There must be some machinery that will allow a school to ensure that children with particular aptitudes can take advantage of that specialism," he said.

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