Tories pledge greater school choice

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The Independent Online

Thousands more children would go to the schools of their parents' choice under Tory plans, the party claimed today.

Parents could send their children to any school - state or independent - under Conservative proposals. The money that taxpayers would spend on that child's education would then go to the school.

The party promised its plans would mean 100,000 more parents would be able to send their children to their first choice school in the first term of a Tory government.

The Tories would also spend an extra £15 billion a year on schools by 2009-10 and would provide enough money to build 260 new secondary schools.

Launching the Conservatives' "Right to Choose", Tory leader Michael Howard said: "By giving parents real choice and teachers real freedom success should flourish and failure should wither away. To those parents who want the best for their children but are denied it, to those teachers who want freedom to teach but are ignored - my message to them today is that we are on your side.

"Our ambition is to give every child the start in life that today only money can buy. Under Labour children will be left to fail. Our 'right to choose' will raise standards for all."

Under the Tory policy the parents of all school age children - primary,secondary and sixth form - would have the right to choose which school theyattend.

They would be able to take the £5,500 average spent per child to any school offering a good education as long as no charge was made to parents. The party says almost all the money would go directly to the school.

It says the number of good school places would increase because popular schools would expand and new ones would be set up wherever there was parental demand.

Furthermore under-performing schools would be forced to raise their game and failing ones would be taken over by new management.

The second key plank of the Conservatives' proposals would see teachers given far greater freedom. They promise headmasters and governors would be able to control their budgets and set school policies on admission, attendance and discipline.

A Tory government would abolish the appeals panel, giving heads and governors back the authority to deal with disruptive pupils. It would also scrap targets imposed on schools.

Mr Howard said: "We will give teachers the freedom to teach, slashing back the undergrowth of targets and brambles of bureaucracy."

The third element is the right to supply. Private companies, faith groups and parents would be able to set up new schools and take over failing ones.

Funds would be allocated directly to schools according to pupil numbers. The Tories insist that would not mean larger class sizes because capacity would increase.

A schools expansion fund would provide an extra £3 billion during a first Tory term - enough to build 260 new secondary schools.

Speaking at Conservative Central Office in Westminster Mr Howard said: "Every parent, whatever their background and wherever they live, wants one thing for their children: a decent education in a school where standards are high and discipline is good.

"Sadly, for too many parents, that is something their children are denied - unless they can afford to pay for it. Too many parents in Britain today simply have to shut up and take what they are given by the state. I want to give every parent the kind of choice in education that today only people with money can buy."

Shadow education secretary Tim Collins added: "Tens of thousands of parents cannot get their child into the school they want, while the Government forbids popular schools expanding. No wonder there is such a cry for change."