'Patronising' Kelly jeered by headteachers

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The Independent Online

Ruth Kelly was jeered by head teachers yesterday and accused of patronising them during angry exchanges as she outlined the Government's plans for education at her first speech to a teaching union's annual conference as Secretary of State for Education.

Ruth Kelly was jeered by head teachers yesterday and accused of patronising them during angry exchanges as she outlined the Government's plans for education at her first speech to a teaching union's annual conference as Secretary of State for Education.

Ms Kelly told the Secondary Heads Association annual conference in Brighton that schools must do more to involve parents and to give pupils more individual attention.

Headteachers interrupted her with cries of "absolute rubbish" and accused her of lacking the experience to make important decisions about secondary school reforms. Parents' leaders accused her of damaging relations between parents and schools with her continued focus on "parent power".

Heads in the 450-strong audience muttered and shook their heads during Ms Kelly's 45-minute address and gave her just a few seconds of lukewarm applause.

Their anger erupted during a question-and-answer session when they interrupted Ms Kelly's claim that they had enough resources for the "mini-manifesto" on education announced by Tony Blair and Ms Kelly on Thursday. It promised that children who fell behind would be taught in small groups while bright students would be stretched with extra classes.

Di Smith, head of Admiral Lord Nelson School, in Portsmouth, accused the Government of raising parents' expectations in the run-up to the election by making promises that could not be kept unless significant extra funding was given to schools. She told Ms Kelly: "We look forward to you pledging these extra resources."

Ms Kelly replied that time would be created for the extra lessons by greater flexibility in the national curriculum while the money would be found from savings made under the national workforce agreement that has put more classroom assistants into schools. This was greeted by cries of "absolute rubbish" and "no it hasn't", which forced Ms Kelly to pause until the shouts subsided and she could resume her answer.

Heads also expressed anger that the Government had rejected the Tomlinson reforms, which would have replaced A level, GCSE and vocational qualifications with an over- arching diploma.

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