Tories vow to overhaul schools watchdog

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The Independent Online

The Tories will today set out plans to rush through legislation to expand the city academies programme and overhaul the schools watchdog, Ofsted.

In a speech to head teachers, shadow schools' secretary Michael Gove will say an incoming Conservative government would introduce a new educational bill within days of taking office.

The aim will be to get the new legislation - which will also include measures to turnaround failing schools more quickly - onto the statute book by the end of July enabling schools to re-open as academies in September.

Mr Gove is expected to say: "Unless we act now our children will lose out in the global race for knowledge. If we win the election, we will act within days to raise standards.

"We will immediately change the law so we can set hundreds of good schools free from political interference and enable them to help struggling schools.

"That means using the dynamism the academies movement brings to turn round underperformance and raise standards."

Under the Tory plans, the new academies would be given the power to take over failing primaries or other schools which need their leadership.

Ofsted will be overhauled in order to focus its efforts on schools that are failing, with those that are rated "outstanding" no longer required to undergo inspections.

The inspection criteria will be simplified, to concentrate on the quality of teaching, the quality of leadership, behaviour and safety, and pupil attainment.

Mr Gove will also announce plans to identify the 100 weakest schools in the system - which have been in special measures for over a year - and place them in the hands of "school leaders with a proven track record of success".

Yesterday Tory leader David Cameron told his party's pre-election spring conference that they face a "real fight" to win power.

He made an impassioned 40-minute speech saying that another five years of Labour rule would be a "disaster", and warned that tensions between ministers were "dragging the country down".

Mr Cameron launched a fierce personal attack on the Prime Minister's "bossiness" and inflated ego.

He told the audience: "What sort of genius is it that doubles the national debt? What sort of genius is it that takes one of the best pension systems in the world and wrecks it?

"That's not genius, that's incompetence and at this coming election we are going to out your record, and tear it apart piece by piece."

A poll published in The Sunday Times suggested that the Conservative lead among voters had shrunk to such an extent that Gordon Brown was on course to win the forthcoming election.

The YouGov poll found that 37% would vote Tory while 35% would opt for Labour - giving Mr Cameron's party 263 seats in the Commons and Labour 317, nine below an overall majority.

But Mr Cameron played down the erosion of his lead: "They don't hand general election victories and governments on a plate to people in this country, and quite right too.

"This election was always going to be close, this election was always going to be a real choice - Labour or Conservative, Gordon Brown or me."