Wee Willie joins the School Liberation Front;Blackpool '99

8th October 1999 at 01:00
"AND NOW, at last, party and nation, joined in the same cause, for the same purpose: to set our schools free."

That's how Tony Blair might have announced a plan to remove schools from local authority control to the Labour conference last week. In fact, though Mr Blair exhorted the virtues of liberation, he did not have headteachers and governors in mind. He was thinking of, you know, The People.

It was left to William Hague in The Common Sense Revolution (that wonderful conjunction of words that means absolutely nothing - try Sense the Common Revolution) to allow schools to break free from their authority shackles. Even if they don't want to. (In the case of some small primaries, it has been likened to the Animal Liberation Front releasing mink from their farms. One moment safe in a cosy pen with regular food, the next a flight into a fox-filled environment where you have to catch your own voles.)

The Common Sense Revolution isn't for the faint-hearted. Yes, heads will become masters of all they survey. They will be able to choose which kids they have and set the staff's wage packet. But, there is a catch - The Parents' Guarantee. One step wrong and the customers - sorry parents - can call in Chris Woodhead's boys and girls to turn you over. "One of the silliest ideas of the century," said John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association.

This week the Tory faithful trooped to Blackpool, riding high in the unpopularity polls and amid a flurry of memoirs from former grandees, including John Major, which show the party in a very dim light. Yes, they all hated each other. And Mrs Thatcher, who arrived on a mission to save the Pinochet One, did not help. She was reported to be referring to Mr Hague as Wee Willie.

Still, at least Willie had a shiny new set of policies to unveil in his Revolution Sense the Common: "A revolution that puts common-sense instincts and Conservative principles to work." It then became a shadow cabinet game to see who could mention the words "common sense" the most. Even Chris Woodhead, at a fringe meeting, was at it.

But does it make sense? The first off-message remarks were picked up on the teacher union stands, where education chairs, councillors and governors have voiced their concerns. "We've had the odd nutter and racist coming to the stall, but we've also had a number, mainly local politicians, who understand the issues and are worried about the proposals," an official said.

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