Tories tell teachers 'we understand the pressure'

At the Conservative conference in Bournemouth, Frances Rafferty found education sidelined by Europe and dead parrots

TEACHERS should be able to take over their school and run it themselves, David Willetts, the shadow education secretary, told the Conservative conference in Bournemouth this week.

He said teachers should be given back their professionalism rather than having every minute of their teaching life micro-managed by David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, from Whitehall. If teachers wanted to, they should be able to vote to become self-governing and set up their school as a workers' co-operative.

Mr Willetts said: "David Blunkett has taken unprecedented powers to interfere in every school in the country. I say to him, if state direction of the economy raised incomes, then the Russians would have been the richest people on earth. But it doesn't.

"No more can you, Mr Blunkett, raise standards by trying to run the nation's 25,000 schools from Whitehall. So stop trying," he said.

The over-prescription theme had also been taken up by William Hague, the Tory leader. He said he had met a teacher who objected to having every minute of the literacy hour dictated to her.

Mr Willetts said Mr Blunkett liked to ban things. "He has banned schools from interviewing prospective pupils. He wants to ban late nights and fix bedtimes, " he said.

The speech was described by Mr Willetts as one of the most teacher-friendly given by a Conservative. He told conference: "We understand the pressures teachers are under. They are far more intense than a generation ago. But however intense they may be, a school can overcome them," he said.

Schools and teachers will rise to meet the challenge when they are given the power to run their affairs. "I want teachers to know that we in the Conservative party are on their side. Theirs is a tough job and a vital one: they are entitled to our support," he said.

He attacked the Government's education policies as vandalism. He said grammar schools were under threat, city technology colleges had suffered cuts in funding, the Assisted Places Scheme, which paid for 96,000 children to be taught in private schools, had been abolished and grant-maintained schools would lose their freedoms.

The result, he said, was that not one single school improved.

During a fringe meeting with teacher unions Mr Willetts admitted that the over-prescription and centralisation of education had not started with the Labour Government. And future policy would include rowing back on a number of reforms initiated by the Conservative government.

He said he was prepared to look at radical options, including drastically simplifying the national curriculum, ending the surplus space rule which meant popular schools could not expand when there were empty places at unpopular schools. Local authorities would still have a role, but as servants of schools, not their masters.

At a fringe meeting he said all 450,000 teachers should be paid more - not just 5,000 so-called superteachers. The money the Chancellor had allocated for capital spending - buildings - should be used instead for pay.

He said: "The advert says you remember a good teacher, not you remember a good classroom."

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