Labour to give parents power to sack heads

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The Independent Online

Parents are to be given new powers to call for the sacking of headteachers of failing schools under a "people power" manifesto to be unveiled by Tony Blair this week.

Parents are to be given new powers to call for the sacking of headteachers of failing schools under a "people power" manifesto to be unveiled by Tony Blair this week.

Labour's manifesto will fulfil Mr Blair's pledge to campaign for a third term on an agenda that is "unremittingly New Labour" by giving parents the power to call on ministers to replace the management of failing schools.

In a move that will be seen as an attempt to court the middle-class vote, parents with failing schools in the suburbs also will be able to petition ministers for some of the 200 city academies which hitherto have been limited to the most deprived areas.

The drive to replace failing comprehensive schools with academies - heavily funded by the private sector - threatens renewed tensions with traditional Labour supporters.

Some of Mr Blair's most senior ministers are sceptical about extending academies outside the most rundown areas.

Mr Blair and Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, will set "social mobility" as the new economic purpose for Britain, taking down the barriers of class, and confirm education as the key priority. Labour will spend a rising share of national income on education with savings from falling unemployment being spent on schools.

In reforms to be announced this week, Ofsted, the schools watchdog, could be given a statutory responsibility to consult parents before reporting on standards on individual schools. Parents will be able to demand sixth forms, and where there is sufficient parental demand, new schools - including independent and voluntary sector providers - could be set up to boost standards.

The Blairite agenda for education and employment will be published today, but Labour's manifesto launch is expected on Wednesday. The manifesto will promise four major reform Bills in the first months of a new parliament, on education, health, housing and welfare. It will offer people more power to influence public services to suit their needs, including booked hospital operations.

Mr Blair and Mr Brown, who tonight appear united in Labour's first party election broadcast, will undertake a two-day economic tour.

"The manifesto will be more radical and more detailed than the 2001 manifesto," said a senior Labour party official. "Both to progressive voters and the traditional working class, we are saying there is something in this for you.

"The big idea is to say that for the last 60 years, the Labour Party has believed in bringing about changes in the public services through top-down diktat. This change is bottom-up. It will give power to people who use public services to say how they should develop."

Mr Brown accused the Conservatives yesterday of planning to take £2bn a year out of state education to subsidise private education for a minority - the equivalent of £200 for each pupil in the state system. Labour's plans would bring spending per pupil to more than £5,500 by 2007-08, compared with £2,500 in 1997, putting Britain ahead of most of its international competitors, he said.

Michael Howard, the Tory leader, will also focus on education at the launch today of the Conservative manifesto. In a foreword, he says that the election offers "a chance for us to be optimistic" with a change of direction.

The Conservatives are holding back details of further pledges for £2.7bn in tax cuts to lift workers out of the 40 per cent tax bracket.

On Europe, the Labour manifesto will pledge that there will be a referendum on the European constitution, without setting a date. However, senior ministers have told The Independent that Mr Blair will be forced to ditch the referendum if, as is quite possible, the French vote "no" on 29 May.

Mr Blair has repeatedly said that Britain would still hold a referendum, regardless of the French result, but his ministers say it would become a referendum on his leadership, and that he could be forced out if he lost.

"He would lose a referendum," said one minister. "There is no way he is going to hold one if the French vote 'no'."

Downing Street has asked ministers to prepare for Britain's presidency of the EU after a possible "no" vote by the French which would prevent the rest of Europe going ahead with the constitution.

Michael Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said last night: "Whatever the outcome of the French referendum, we will hold a referendum within six months of coming to office."

As the Conservatives today launch their manifesto, Labour will release a Treasury costed estimate of Conservative tax and spending plans, claiming that their manifesto equates to committing an extra £15.7bn of spending by 2007-8.

The estimate marks a direct challenge to Oliver Letwin's pledge that the party would spend £12bn less than Labour. It is thought to be the first time Labour has produced an estimate of spending commitments of the opposition, and is being seen as a key element in the party's strategy to undermine Tory credibility.