The Week

9th October 2009 at 01:00

So, what's the next government going to drop on schools? At the Conservative conference in Manchester, shadow schools secretary Michael Gove announced plans to give schools the freedoms of academies. The Tories would also set up "technical schools", which Mr Gove said would "provide credible, high-quality vocational education" in at least 12 cities. Ace. Shame it may only be in those schools - 0.3 per cent of England's secondaries - as the Conservatives' plan to remove vocational qualifications from the main academic measure in league tables could deter the rest.

On the conference fringe, Nick Gibb, shadow schools minister, said he wanted to see rote learning and setting in schools. "You have to know the map of Europe," The Guardian reported him saying. How such detailed recommendations fit with the Tories' pledges to give schools more freedom is anyone's guess.

The most tense conference moment occurred elsewhere - at the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) in Liverpool. There, Charity Commission chairwoman Dame Suzi Leather faced a tough reception from private school heads, none too pleased with the quango's public benefit tests. Andrew Grant, HMC chairman, compared the commission's threat to remove schools' land and property to Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. And headteachers dislike people getting medieval on their assets.

Meanwhile, Ed Balls, Schools Secretary, announced his choice for England's next children's commissioner: Maggie Atkinson, Gateshead's children's services director. This would be more exciting if: a) teachers knew who the current one was; and b) England's commissioner wasn't considered so powerless by counterparts that he is not allowed to be a full member of the European network - unlike the more independent ones for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

If an award existed for the primary school with Britain's toughest parents, judges would be considering two new contenders. First up: Westmorland Primary in Stockport, which has warned parents they will be banned if they carry on swearing at their children in the playground. However, it may be out-roughed by Doncaster Road in Barnsley, which has needed to ban parents from swigging lager cans when they pick up their kids - and drop them off in the morning. The Mirror's headline? "On the school rum".

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