The Tory vision of 'free schools' has been attacked as a threat to vulnerable children and a recipe for industrial strife, reports Frances Rafferty
TORY plans to let every school select its intake and set staff wages would lead to a free-for-all where the most disadvantaged pupils lose out, teachers' leaders have said.
In his policy document, The Common Sense Revolution, Conservative party leader William Hague, leader, says all schools would be freed from local authority control, and heads and governors would have complete responsibilty for running them, disciplining pupils and paying teachers.
He also wants to give parents the power to sack headteachers if they are unhappy with a school's performance.
The document was described by its authors as a total departure from the last Conservative government's education policies as well as Labour's. "Labour has essentially souped up the policies of the last government and just heaped more regulations on top of it," said one of the writers. "What we propose is a radical departure."
The National Union of Teachers describes the document as 'A Nonsense Revolution'. General secretary Doug McAvoy said "kangaroo courts" for heads would do nothing to help recruit and retain teachers.
Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "The promise of freedom for all state schools is the freedom of the jungle. Allowing schools freedom to determine their own admissions policies could lead to wholesale reintroduction of selection."
He predicted thousands of industrial disputes if each school were responsible for setting pay and conditions.
David Hart, of the National Association of Head Teachers, said his members believed in self-management and funding being delegated to school budgets.
"But they also believe in the need to protect those children most at risk and there is the fear that a free-for-all market in education will not safeguard this group."
The plan to make all schools independent of local authority control was also criticised by supporters of the grant-maintained movement.
"Some schools are not ready, and are having enough problems with local management. Particularly in small primaries, there is not the economy of scale," said a former GM head.
Much of the detail of the proposals is yet to be finalised.
Parents will be able to trigger an inspection of their school. If the school is found to be failing, the local education authority will be forced to remove the management and put it out to tender. But the nature of that trigger has not been decided.
Chris Woodhead, schools chief inspector, said it was already possible for inspectors to respond to parents' approaches. Education secretary David Blunkett confirmed that, if parents presented a good case, an inspection could be initiated.
The method of getting money to "free" schools, presumably via a national funding formula, is also undecided.
And Theresa May, shadow education spokeswoman, said allowing schools to set pay would not necessarily mean the end of the School Teachers' Review Body.
"The review body could still be responsible for devising national pay frameworks," she said. However the "bureaucratic" structures proposed in the government's Green Paper, which introduced performance-related pay, would be scrapped.
During the education debate, delegates, including 16-year-old Robert Reed, called for the return of the assisted places scheme. Others described the miseries students find themselves in under Labour's student loan system.
But while Mrs May in her keynote speech was able to promise a bonfire of current controls - cutting the number of plans the Government requires of schools - she did not have solutions to these burning issues for party members. 'COMMON SENSE' EDUCATION All schools will be "free schools" - heads and governors will be responsible for admissions, opening hours, term-times and wages
Funding will go directly to schools
Parents will be able to sack heads by calling for an Office for Standards in Education inspection. If the school is found to be failing, the local education authority will be forced to put the management out to tender
Heads will be able to exclude disruptive pupils, who will be sent to special units, run by the local education authority or voluntary organisations
New types of independent schools - run by private
companies or voluntary organisations - will be set up and funded by the state
Schools will be allowed to select on the basis of academic achievement
Local education authorities will be responsible for ensuring all children have a school place and will have a residual role in special needs provision
Schools will have a more