School reforms will free teachers 'from constraint'

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The Independent Online

Education Secretary Michael Gove pledged today to free "teachers from constraint" as he launched a major overhaul of the English schools system in a bid to boost standards and restore discipline.

Unveiling the Coalition's education White Paper, Mr Gove said the reforms would give the country "the opportunity to become the world's leading education nation".

He said the Government would hand over more power to schools to take decisions away from Whitehall.

But the proposals were condemned by teaching unions, which accused the Government of attacking the teaching profession and state education in England.

The package of reforms included tougher academic targets, changes in teacher training and new guidelines on discipline.

Secondary schools will be subject to intense scrutiny if fewer than 35% of their pupils get five C grades at GCSE, including English and maths, and fewer students are making two levels of progress between the ages of 11 and 16 (Key Stages 3 and 4) than the national average.

The new targets could mean as many as 400 more schools are labelled "underperforming".

Where schools are found to fall below standard, "outstanding headteachers" will be brought in to help "raise the bar on achievement".

The training process for new teachers will be overhauled, with a new generation of "teaching schools" established, along the lines of teaching hospitals, as showcases of the best classroom practice.

The White Paper also announced plans to encourage servicemen leaving the forces to re-train as teachers under a "Troops to Teachers" programme.

It said soldiers had a "great deal to offer young people as mentors" and the Government would pay tuition fees for service leavers to take a PGCE qualification.

At the same time, Government funding for initial teacher training for graduates with a third-class degree would be withdrawn.

Extending the powers of teachers to search pupils, the coalition also announced staff would be entitled to search children for pornography, tobacco, and fireworks as well as phones, cameras or anything that could harm others.

Mr Gove revealed the Government had backtracked over plans to scrap independent appeal panels for children who have been excluded from schools.

Instead, the appeals panels will not have the power to reinstate a pupil found to be wrongly excluded.

The White Paper said reinstating excluded pupils could "undermine" the headteacher's authority but a panel could still find against a school and order it to contribute towards the cost of the excluded child's education.

He also said academies would regain the freedoms they had originally while the National Curriculum would become less prescriptive.

Unveiling the White Paper - called The Importance of Teaching - Mr Gove told the House of Commons: "If we are to make the most of the potential of every child then we need to learn from those countries which outperform us educationally and have more equal societies.

"This White Paper does just that. It shamelessly plunders the best ideas from the highest-performing education nations and applies them to our own circumstances."

He added: "That's why the Coalition Government plans to recruit more great people into teaching, train our existing teachers better and free them from bureaucracy and Whitehall control."

Shadow Education Secretary Andy Burnham said he welcomed parts of the White Paper but said he was concerned it did not serve "all schools and all children".

He said: "I apply two clear tests to any education policy. Will it help every school be a good school? Will it help every child be the best they can be?

"I believe it fails those fundamental tests."

He told Mr Gove: "You will need to work hard to explain how your plan won't create a new generation of failing schools."

Plans for a pupil premium - a key Lib Dem policy to award extra money to schools with children from a deprived background - were welcomed by the Family and Parenting Institute.

The White Paper said the Coalition would spend £2.5 billion per year on the pupil premium by the end of the spending review period.

Dr Katherine Rake, chief executive of the Institute, said: "For too long, schools admissions policies have disadvantaged children from poorer families to the extent that half of all secondary school age children receiving free school meals are concentrated in just one quarter of all secondary schools."

But the White Paper was criticised by teaching union NASUWT and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, described the announcement as a "vicious assault" on teachers.

She said: "The Secretary of State's statements are a disgraceful denigration and misrepresentation of the performance of schools and teachers."

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, added: "Bit by bit Michael Gove is dismantling state education in England. His plans risk leaving every school an island divorced from the help and support of their local authorities."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) warned the Coalition must strike a balance between freedom and accountability for the reforms to succeed.

Mr Hobby said: "It is not about the ideas but about the implementation and what can look good on paper can have negative impact if it is done without real insight into the way the system works.

"For any hope of successful change, the government must work with professionals on the journey from principle to reality."