Tories offer scholarships to boost assisted places

A "Scottish scholarship scheme" for underprivileged pupils would be introduced by a new Conservative government, the party's election manifesto pledges. There would also be a specific grant for councils to preserve music tuition and encourage sporting excellence.

These, together with a "teachers' aide scheme" for classroom assistants, are the only education proposals in the manifesto not flagged in Raising the Standard, the White Paper issued in January.

The scholarship scheme would be established by a "complete revamping" of the assisted places scheme, Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State, said. It would support young people with particular talents in areas such as music and sport to attend fee-paying schools, allowing them to take study years abroad and participate in ventures such as Operation Raleigh.

Mr Forsyth said this was one of the "big ideas" in the manifesto. It was a specific commitment which had originated in Scotland, he added, and would be "considered" by the party for the rest of the UK.

Voucher schemes for pre-school children and for school-leavers on training programmes constituted another big idea, Mr Forsyth said. "You only have to see the anger of the Labour party against vouchers to see how powerful they are. Vouchers liberate parents from officialdom telling them what is good for their families."

But he ruled out any extension of the principle to primary or secondary education.

The manifesto spelt out further details of the "quality mark" for schools judged by the Inspectorate to be turning in an excellent performance. Schools would apply to be assessed on quality of teaching, attendance rates, school uniform, and access to school sports, extracurricular activities and out-of-school trips. The award would carry a cash value payable directly to the school not to the local authority, Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, stated pointedly.

The manifesto's remaining education proposals largely confirm the plans set out in the January White Paper, with targets for all schools as part of an "education standards guarantee" to parents, compulsory testing in the first two years of secondary school, publication of school results for seven-year-olds and 14-year-olds, more control over budgets for schools and improved discipline.

There is no reference, however, to the intended abolition of teachers' negotiating rights. But Mr Robertson assured The TES Scotland that Conservative ministers would legislate for a Scottish teachers' pay review body as early as possible in the new Parliament.

Two other manifesto proposals which will affect education are new restrictions on strike action and a requirement forcing local authorities to give the public a progress report on their spending every six months.

Anti-strike legislation would allow employers and others to seek legal backing to prevent industrial action which has "disproportionate or excessive effect. "

The Educational Institute of Scotland dismissed this as irrelevant and pointed out there had been no national strike action by Scottish teachers since November 1, 1988. A spokesman said the union would challenge such an infringement of employee rights to withdraw their labour in the European courts if necessary.

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