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Tories: bring on free schools

England's flagship policy will `cut red tape and improve funding in Wales'

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England's flagship policy will `cut red tape and improve funding in Wales'

The Westminster Government's free schools policy should be introduced in Wales as the most effective way to cut bureaucracy and get more money to the chalkface, the Conservatives have claimed.

Paul Davies, the Tory shadow education minister, told TES Cymru that giving parents, heads and governors the freedom to run their own schools would save money in the long term by bypassing local authorities.

The free schools initiative will form a central plank of the Tory campaign for next year's National Assembly elections.

If the party forms the next Assembly government, it will run a four-year pilot scheme giving some secondaries control over their own maintenance, teaching, parts of the curriculum and administration.

Mr Davies said: "By adapting this policy we could save money in the long term.

"I think heads want the flexibility to run their own schools because they know best. What's good in one particular school may not be suited to another school."

He said free schools could procure central services such as meals and transport more efficiently than councils.

"Savings could certainly be made on an individual school basis by bypassing the local authority. The people who run that particular school would be able to purchase services efficiently."

Mr Davies said greater autonomy and freedom would also lead to better results.

But the policy has been widely dismissed by teaching unions and academics, who claimed no one in Wales would support the idea.

David Egan, professor of education at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, said: "I don't see any opinion developing among teachers, parents or governors calling for free schools. It's simply not suited to the educational culture of the country."

Dr Philip Dixon, director of teaching union ATL Cymru, said the idea was "completely baffling."

"Why, when we have a massive problem with surplus places in Wales, do the Tories want to establish more schools at a time when their government in Westminster is pushing for further cuts?"

Headteacher unions are also sceptical. Iwan Guy, acting director of NAHT Cymru, said: "Heads wouldn't want the money and responsibility for central services like special education needs, transport and HR. There are too many variables."

Gareth Jones, secretary of ASCL Cymru, said: "History does not suggest that there would be great enthusiasm in Wales for state-funded independent schools."

However, he said many heads would share Mr Davies' view that direct or ring-fenced funding was desirable.

He added: "We need to find a middle way which involves direct national funding of the costs of delivering at least the core curriculum whilst enabling local decisions on additional funding streams and curriculum and management policies."

An Assembly government spokeswoman said there are no plans to introduce free schools.

"We remain committed to community schools maintained by local authorities," she added.

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