Uniforms and house system mark end of Labour's 'comprehensive' dream

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Every secondary school is to be told by the Government that it should have uniforms for its pupils and introduce the "house" system, as commonly used in public schools, in the biggest shake-up of the education system in 60 years.

Ministers believe uniforms will instill a sense of pride in their school among pupils and improve discipline, while the introduction of the house system would encourage pupils of different ages to mix with each other and remove some of the trauma for 11-year-olds of transferring from primary.

The moves are outlined in the long-awaited five-year plan for the future of schools published by Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, yesterday. Mr Clarke described the measures as among the most significant since the 1944 Education Act brought in the present system.

He also made it clear for the first time that he backed radical proposals to scrap the GCSE and A-level system and replace it with a new diploma, as outlined by Mike Tomlinson, the former chief schools inspector.

Yesterday's blueprint also held out the prospect of penalties being imposed on pupils who make malicious abuse allegations against their teachers. Union leaders have called for the pupils to be expelled if their allegations are shown to be false. More than nine out of 10 accusations never come to court while teachers can face an agonising wait of up to two years before being proved innocent.

However, the key element of the package - widely trailed in the run-up to yesterday's document - signals the end of Labour's once-cherished "one-size-fits-all" comprehensive system of secondary schooling. As revealed by The Independent, it will be replaced by 2,900 specialist schools and 200 privately-sponsored and run city academies, which will be given more freedom to run their own affairs.

The proposals were largely welcomed by teachers' leaders, with reservations about city academies receiving the lion's share of education funding to set them up.

However, they were attacked by both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Tim Collins, education spokesman for the Conservatives, said many of the proposals - such as allowing popular schools to expand and emphasising parental choice - were "a tribute to the power of the photocopier, the product not so much of Blair and Clarke but of Xerox". Phil Willis, for the Liberal Democrats, added that the proposals were "absolutely scandalous - Tory policy being developed by a Labour government".

The 108-page paper said that ministers would expect every school to have a uniform. "School uniforms help to define the ethos of a school and the standards expected," it said. "They help give pupils pride in their school and make them ambassadors for their community."

On introducing the house system in state schools, the document said: "New-style 'house' systems can make large secondary schools feel more personal and intimate."

Mr Clarke singled out the Government's backing for the Tomlinson inquiry as one of the two most important measures announced yesterday. It is the first time ministers have stated they back the plans outlined in an interim report of the inquiry published earlier this year.

The final go-ahead would have to await the publication of the full report this autumn, he said, but added: "We completely endorse the 14 to 19 [years of age] proposals, including the approach of the diploma."

The document made it clear the changes - to be introduced over the next 10 years - should build on the strengths of A-levels. "The academically able have been well served by the traditional A-level route but we need to review whether it is still fit for purpose in a world which requires ever higher levels of performance," the report said.

Under the diploma, there would be a compulsory extended essay for all sixth-formers to stretch their thinking, plus a compulsory core of literacy and numeracy.

On abuse allegations, the document said the Government wanted to "defend teachers from false allegations - ensuring that teachers are not subjected to damaging delays where their integrity is in question and that swift action can be taken against those who make false allegations".

Yesterday's document outlined radical changes throughout the education system. These include:

ALL SCHOOLS

Every school will be given more freedom to run its own affairs and the opportunity to bid for "foundation" status. This will transfer ownership of land from the local education authority to the individual school, allow each to negotiate their own pay rates and give them more freedom over the curriculum.

The offer will be open to all schools, but is likely to prove most popular with secondary schools. The aim is that schools will, in the words of ministers, be able to operate as "independent state schools".

All schools will be given three-year budgets to allow them to plan for the future, instead of having an annual budget from their local town hall. Local education authorities will be instructed that all the money allocated by the Government must be spent on education and not diverted to other services. They will be allowed to spend more than the Government allocates and will still have the freedom to give more money to the schools in greatest need.

The Government will make it clear that popular schools will be able to expand, although the final decision as to whether to allow the expansion or improve facilities in another school will rest with the local education authority.

All schools will be given this option - including the 164 remaining grammar schools - although Mr Clarke made it clear he would prefer priority to be given to specialist schools.

He said that while all schools should have uniforms this would not be compulsory. All should also have an anti- bullying policy and the house system.

UNDER FIVES

All three-and four-year-olds will be guaranteed 12-and-a-half hours a week of "educare", either in a nursery or child care. From age five, "wrap-around" child care will be available before and after school (from 8am until 6pm) and in school holidays. By 2008 the Government intends to have this scheme operating in 1,000 primary schools offering places to 50,000 children. Eventually, it intends to extend it to secondary school.

PRIMARY

Every child will have two hours of physical education and sport per week, the chance to learn a foreign language from the age of seven and to play a musical instrument.

The blueprint promises to tackle obesity by ending the current increasing trend among under-11s by 2010. This will be done by encouraging them to cycle or walk to school.

Efforts will be made to improve literacy and numeracy standards as one in four children still fail to read, write or add up by the age of 11.

SECONDARY

The old "one-size-fits-all" comprehensive system is to disappear. It will be replaced by 2,900 specialist schools and 200 city academies - privately-run state-financed schools in inner city areas that will have private sponsorship. Private companies, church foundations and parents will be encouraged to put in bids to run new schools when they are being established. By 2008, the Government estimates that 95 per cent of all secondary schools will either be specialist or city academies. Specialist schools will be encouraged to take on a second specialist subject once they have proved they have mastered the first.

THE CURRICULUM

Every pupil will be given a tailor-made "personalised learning" plan. Much more use will be made of the internet to widen the number of subjects offered in schools - so that, for instance, youngsters can learn Latin online if they choose, even if there is no specialist teacher in the school.

The Government has signalled its support for the proposals in the report by Mike Tomlinson on education for 14 to 19-year-olds to replace the existing GCSE and A-level system with a new diploma requiring a broader range of studies in the sixth-form.

There will be cash incentives of £30 per week to encourage 16-year-olds and above from poor families to stay on at school. These will also be available to adult learners who lack basic skills.

THE EXPERT VIEW

KATE GRIFFIN

Headteacher, Greenford School, Middlesex

I'm pleased to see greater autonomy for secondary heads. I am concerned that deprivation indices are covered, and those schools that are neglected get support. There is an issue of how to manage the expansion of successful schools - for if one school is expanding, another will be contracting. There needs to be a clear discipline procedure. I am not sure whether exclusion is best. If we exclude children, where do they go?

HOLLY ARUP, 14,

Student at Camden School for Girls

The whole thing sounds bad. One reason we don't have a uniform is to develop individuality and confidence. Wearing a uniform would be like being in the army, with no difference between people. I am concerned about getting rid of GCSEs, a diploma sounds too American. GCSEs have been around for a long time, it seems random to suddenly change them. We had a house system in primary school, and it can be frustrating: one house always wins.

DAVID HART

General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers

The plan makes a great deal of sense. Three-year funding, more autonomy, less red tape and a crackdown on bad pupil and bad parent behaviour is exactly what heads need. Expanding popular schools, closing unsuccessful schools and creating more academies may well appeal electorally. But an unlicensed education market could damage the pupils in those schools that descend into an irretrievable spiral of decline.

KAT FLETCHER

NUS National President

The NUS believes in an education system that is adequately funded at every level. School students should have the opportunity to access educational institutions that are suited to their needs. "Choice" is misleading in this context. Every parent would want a well-funded, excellent school for their child to attend in the local area. We believe that another tier in secondary education will be detrimental to the sector as a whole.

SCOTT RADCLIFFE, 17,

Student at Dunstable College

I think the proposals for diplomas to replace GCSEs and A-levels are a good thing. I can concentrate all my energy on one subject, which is less stressful for students, particularly with coursework rather than an examination emphasis. I wore a uniform and I think it is good in some ways, it gives schools an identity. Then again, many pupils are more relaxed when wearing their own clothes, so that is better for learning.

PHIL WILLIS MP,

Lib Dem education spokesman

I would give them three out of 10. They could do much better by concentrating on core issues rather than pandering to an election audience. There are significant communities who are educationally deprived, and have been for decades. While the plans to increase choice sound good, they are not actively engaging with these communities. We need high-quality local education. Choice is a secondary issue; we must guarantee quality first.

ANDREW WRIGHT, 17,

Student at Dunstable College

A diploma system will be good for people like me, who want to be doing art all the time. I'm not sure if it would work for everyone. Some of my friends have no idea what they want to study, so it is good for them to take a group of subjects. I had a house system at school, which makes things pretty organised lesson-wise. I'm a bit worried about the uniform idea. It's all very well if clothes are relaxed and comfortable, but not if it involves wearing a tie.

JOHN DUNFORD

SHA General Secretary

Schools play a vital part in their wider local communities and the strategy contains important measures in which schools will be expected to work together. This collaboration is an important component in a successful local education system. It is essential that academies work with other local schools. The success of academies must be judged not only on their own results, but by their effect on the performance of all local schools.

PROFESSOR ALAN SMITHERS

Director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research, University of Liverpool

The plan for secondary schools is shallow and gimmicky. Three-year budgets are a good idea, but duck the key question of how places are to be allocated. To make all schools specialist is a nonsense: what happens when the only school in town is in the humanities and your child loves the sciences? New academies are an expensive photo-opportunity for which there is a struggle to find sponsors.

BARRY SHEERMAN MP

Chairman of Education Select Committee

I am very enthusiastic. This reaffirms the Prime Minister's and government's commitment to diversity and choice. Education is top priority for our government. He has made changes and driven up standards. These are good results but not enough. I welcome greater independence for high-achieving schools, yet greater intervention by the education department when children are not getting the breaks they deserve.

ANNE WELSH

Secondary Heads Association President, Headteacher, Newcastle

I am very, very encouraged. I particularly like the idea that teachers will have more autonomy. I like the idea of budgets being "ring-fenced" so that government funding can come straight to schools. I like the acceleration of the specialist schools programme. I have some concerns about the amount of money that will go into building the academies, which clearly means that there's less for other schools.

STEVE SINNOTT

General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers

This five-year plan is a mixture of tried and tested schemes and a leap in the dark. A three-year budget will provide stability and enable schools to plan with greater certainty. But the plan to expand city academies will confront parents with a confused and confusing array of schools. The power to choose will lie with the governing body and the headteacher, leading to selection by stealth and frustration for parents.

THE NEW LEXICON FOR SCHOOLS

CITY ACADEMIES

The 200 city academies to be created by 2010 will be run by private sponsors who will have to invest £2m in the school. So far 12 have been set up, with the Government putting up around £20m in each case to meet the cost of building the new schools. In most cases so far, the academies have replaced struggling inner-city schools - which have been demolished or refurbished. They will be able to select 10 per cent of their pupils on aptitude.

SPECIALIST SCHOOLS

There will be 1,952 specialist schools by September - rising to 2,900 in the next two years. They cover a range of subjects - such as maths, arts, languages, technology, sports, music, business and engineering. Again they can select 10 per cent of their pupils on aptitude.

FOUNDATION STATUS

This gives schools more freedom from local authority control. Most of the former grant-maintained schools which had opted out of council control under the Conservatives, but whose status was abolished by Labour, have already opted for this.

EDUCARE

A new term invented by Labour to indicate schools or nurseries which offer a mixture of child care and education. Labour is expecting 1,000 primary schools to remain open from 8am until 6pm by 2008 to offer this service to parents.

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