The Conservatives' policy review document on the public service is more thoughtful than many of the leaks from it would have us believe. This is to be expected from a forum that had the former chief inspector, Dame Pauline Perry, as one of its co-chairs. For a start, the proposal that children should be kept back in primary school for a further year if they fail to master the three Rs turns out to be extra summer-school coaching so that they can prepare for secondary school or "an offer" of a remedial year to catch up.
Even so, we have doubts about the wisdom of these ideas. Will children really be amenable to repeating a year at the top of primary school – with all the boredom that is entailed in covering the same material again? Won't they be likely to truant or misbehave at the prospect of going over the same old ground – and this time, without their friends? We would argue that it would be better to rely on extra catch-up classes in secondary school.
The Tories' most radical proposals, however, centre on the education of disadvantaged pupils. The policy review recommends a premium of up to £6,000 a year be paid to schools to accept children from disadvantaged backgrounds – thus making the pupils a more attractive proposition to the heads of oversubscribed schools.
In addition, it suggests that, if an authority is suffering from falling pupil numbers, it should consider as a first option closing inner-city schools and bussing the pupils out to those in the suburbs with declinging numbers. According to Dame Pauline, too often authorities believe that it is easier to opt for closing smaller schools in the suburbs. How these proposals sit with offering parents choice in their child's schooling is not immediately clear. But this is something that David Cameron will have to address when he decides which of the recommendations to adopt.
He may have an easier time with a proposal to abolish appeals panels on exclusions – although he would do well to consider this carefully, because it would force more parents to take legal action against schools, which could end up being costly. If he wants to move away from traditional Conservative ground and prove to the world that he is keen to tackle poverty, backing the premium for schools taking disadvantaged pupils would be a start.Reuse content