Tory MP battles against vouchers

8th March 1996 at 00:00
Conservative MP Sir Malcolm Thornton this week called for a clear statement from Government that there would continue to be a role for local education authorities, writes Clare Dean.

He said he was "fighting like hell" to keep issues such as the extension of the nursery voucher scheme to all levels of education out of the Conservative manifesto.

Sir Malcolm told a conference in London that schools needed central support services to function. He said that while LEAs were "not flavour of the month" with the policy unit at Number 10, that view was not shared in the Department for Education and Employment.

And he said councils might find unexpected allies in the Treasury. "Anything that sees the Treasury relinquishing control of the overall spending in this country causes a frisson."

Sir Malcolm last month stood down as chairman of the House of Commons Education Select Committee, which was disbanded pending the creation of a joint education and employment committee.

He told the conference, organised by Local Schools Information, that if all schools opted out of council control primaries would gain between Pounds 15,000 and Pounds 20,000 extra and secondaries another Pounds 25,000.

"That isn't a significant attraction to anyone in terms of financial freedom, " he told the conference, held at London University's Institute of Education, to look at the future role of schools and LEAs.

John Dunford, president of the Secondary Heads Association, suggested an intermediate tier of government between school and central Government. "I want it to be democratically elected and controlled and to have a strategic and support role."

LSI urged a major review of the arrangements covering school admissions, funding and governance. In a booklet called Useful Lessons! published this week it added: "For a great many parents - possibly a significant majority - there is little or no real 'choice', let alone access to much diversity."

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