Labour plan to give power over schools to parents

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Parents would get to vote on whether struggling schools should be taken over by new owners, under a government plan announced yesterday.

The scheme was the centrepiece of a keynote speech on education by Gordon Brown. Under the plans, if a significant number of parents expressed dissatisfaction with the leadership of their children's schools, the local authority would have to conduct a ballot on whether a new organisation should be brought in to turn it around.

The new owners would be from a list of approved providers, including universities, colleges, successful schools and private sponsors. The scheme, which would cover primary and secondary schools, was greeted with hostility yesterday by teachers' leaders.

According to the Prime Minister, the scheme would empower parents without leaving "education to the mercy of the marketplace".

Yesterday's speech included a pledge that if enough parents of 11-year-olds were dissatisfied with the secondary schools in their area, local authorities would be forced to draw up an action plan to introduce new providers.

Mr Brown set a target for Britain to be in the top three countries in the world for science provision and the top five for maths by 2015. And he said teachers would have to renew a "licence" to teach every five years, with anyone who performed poorly having it withdrawn.

"If you are dissatisfied with the progress your local school is making, you will be able to get a new and quality-guaranteed provider," said the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls.

Philip Parkin, the general secretary of Voice, a teachers' union, said: "Such a scheme... is impractical and unworkable and would create more bureaucracy, not less. The ballot box is not the way to organise a programme of school improvement."