Tories would strip councils of pound;3bn

Teachers are unimpressed by William Hague's plans to streamline school funding. Nicolas Barnard reports

WILLIAM Hague's plans for unannounced school inspections are unlikely to win many teacher votes.

But they could prove popular with parents who would be able to call in the Office for Standards in Education if they were unhappy with their children's schools.

The extension of Chris Woodhead's powers would, however, help fill the gap left by local authorities and central government, who would see their powers to monitor and intervene cut back radically by the Conservatives' "free schools" policy.

Schools would be given complete control over admissions, prompting warnings of chaos from teaching unions. The National Union of Teachers also warned that moves to scrap the national pay scales would mean some teachers earning less.

But there was a general welcome for Tory proposals to restore powers to exclude problem pupils.

The "free schools policy" outlined by the Conservative party leader in a speech at the right-wing think-tank Politeia on Tuesday, marked his latest bid to seize the initiative from Labour.

Mr Hague said his proposals would drastically reduce bureaucracy, "let teachers teach" and increase parental choice by permitting the creation of new state-funded schools and it would also allow schools to select by ability or ethos.

Stripping LEAs to the core - running special needs and education welfare support and a residual function of ensuring every child ha a place - would free up pound;3 billion. Scrapping the Standards Fund would release pound;1bn more, giving pound;4bn - equivalent to pound;540 for every pupil.

School budgets would come directly from Whitehall on a national funding formula.

"LEAs as we know them will cease to exist," Mr Hague said. But as details emerged, it became clear they would continue to provide services if schools wished to buy them.

Labour said the Tories had got their sums wrong.

Most of the pound;4bn was already delegated to schools, or would soon be, while the rest went on crucial services such as special needs and transport. Tory ministers would be left unable to influence standards.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said it would create "chaos and anxiety" for parents across the country. "Parents will no longer choose schools; schools will choose pupils."

But both SHA and the National Association of Head Teachers welcomed greater delegation.

Nigel de Gruchy, of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, feared the "freedom of the jungle", and said teachers would be "incredulous" to hear the party that introduced the national curriculum promising to end bureaucracy.

The Tories plan to "consult" on a national funding formula, and accepts that some schools will still receive more than others as a result of local need.

Further speeches are planned

on the issues of special needs, school sports, teacher training and higher education.

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