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TORY CONF: 'WE WILL CREATE EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION BY SETTING SCHOOLS FREE' - EDUCATION SPOKESWOMAN

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Addressing the Local Government Conference of the Conservative Councillors Association at the weekend, shadow secre...
Addressing the Local Government Conference of the Conservative Councillors Association at the weekend, shadow secretary of state for education, Theresa May said:

'Sometimes it is easy to forget that the one thing most parents care

passionately about is getting the best possible education for their child. They want to see excellence in education for their child, and they deserve it. We have an obligation to every child to deliver that and our Common Sense Revolution sets out the ways we will make that a reality.

'Our children deserve a better education than the one a Labour controlled Local Education Authority (LEA) like Leeds has been delivering. The Ofsted annual report published this week spells out exactly what is wrong with Labour's approach to education. In his report, Chris Woodhead described the overall situation with regard to LEAs as bleak. 12 LEAs have received critical reports, a further four have been found to be failing to such a degree that the secretary of state has intervened.

'Last week, Estelle Morris confirmed that consultants would be sent into Leeds, Rotherham and Sheffield. The authorities were variously accused of neglect, strategic drift, under-investment and betrayal of the region's children. Chris Woodhead compared Leeds to the failures of Liverpool, Islington and Hackney.

'We have lost a generation of children in schools in mostly Labour

controlled LEAs who will not get a second chance. Those LEAs should hang their heads in shame about the mess they have made of educating the country's children. The children they have failed only got one chance, and that has been thrown away.

'This Labour government's strategy is to blame LEAs and distance themselves from what is going on at local level. They are to blame. Their policies are not working.

'Let them tell the parents who have set up a school in a semi-detached house in Leeds that Labour is delivering an education for the children. Many of the 17 pupils in that school are dyslexic and were falling behind in the school system. This school was only opened last September and parents pay£10 a week towards its costs and help out with lessons and extra-curricular activities. This is a school that has been praised by inspectors. These are the schools the Conservative Party will support and encourage.

'We will allow schools to flourish by having a bonfire of bureaucracy. We will stop the mountain of bureaucracy that teachers are being forced to respond to every day of the week. We will stop the interference in schools from central government. We will ensure money gets direct to schools, instead of going via the LEAs. The money will go direct to the classrooms, and not on bureaucracy.

As the Ofsted report says: 'funding should be used to attract and remunerate successful teachers, buy more books and mend leaking roofs. Each and every penny spent outside the schools needs to be scrutinised and each new administrative post challenged.' (The Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools 1998/99)

'The Common Sense Revolution documents unveiled at the Conservative Party Conference sets the scene for the Conservative's new policies in education. The key theme that binds our education policies is this: we want to create the best possible framework to create higher standards in education. This revolution was not simply conjured out of the air. It came out of our Listening to Britain programme, which was a countryside consultation exercise that enabled us to re-connect with people. It has given us a solid foundation on which we can build new policies - policies that address the real problems that parents and teachers face every day.

'Setting schools free means giving them the freedom to decide on how money is to be spent. They will be able to set their own agenda and prioritise the spending for the growth and good of the school. The benefit of this will be that schools can build their own ethos, to suit the needs and aspirations of their pupils.

'Some colleagues are nervous about these changes. They are, it is true, big changes but this is not change for change sake. Free Schools represent the most fundamental and common sense approach to securing and safeguarding what is best in this country's education system. And ensuring that it can grow and prosper to guarantee what our children deserve and parents demand - excellence in education.

'You can all point to schools in your areas and dedicated teachers whom you know are doing an excellent job in spite of the barrage of directives and circulars, and all the others problems they face.

'Under Free Schools, Heads and Governors will have complete responsibility for managing their schools; for employing staff; for setting timetables, opening hours and term times; and for setting admissions policy. They will have greater flexibility over the curriculum and will be able to design pay packages for teachers.

'By employing their own staff in line with locally determined pay and

conditions there will be far better control of staff and budget. There would also be improved accountability.

'There will be a new role for Local Education Authorities.

'Under Free Schools, the budget will go direct to the schools, not through the LEA. The funding schools receive will be based on a per pupil amount and the schools will have compete discretion as to how the money should be spent, subject to audit.

'Our Free Schools policy ensures a role for LEAs - they will be responsible for ensuring every child gets a place at a school.

'But Free Schools will not have to use the services provided by their LEA. They can turn to a private contractor, or even buy in a service from a neighbouring LEA. This would mean that the schools suffering under the LEA in Leeds would be able to buy in services from the Conservative controlled one next door instead.

'In the area of Special Educational Needs there is no reasons why LEAs could not be responsible for providing these. In the same way that they would have responsibility for ensuring every child has a place at school, so they could be responsible for providing Education Welfare Officers.

'Last week, I visited a school where a very talented head had turned round a failing school, into one where there was hope.

'By setting schools free, we can raise hope for all schools. By freeing them from bureaucracy, by allowing teachers to teach, and by getting money direct to schools, then we will raise standards and bring about excellence in education.'

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