Labour's education plans 'lack substance'

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The Independent Online

Education Editor

Secondary heads yesterday condemned Labour's plans for raising standards in schools as "motherhood and apple pie"- the first detailed verdict from teachers on the party's policy.

The heads said the proposals pointed towards more centralisation with a future Labour government interfering in schools over details such as hours of homework. And they feared Labour would restore power to local authorities to intervene in schools' affairs.

The attack is good news for the Conservatives since Labour argues it is the party that will be more successful in raising standards because it will win teachers' co-operation.

The Secondary Heads Association said that, although it supported the general thrust of many proposals in Labour's document Excellence for Everyone, the policies were "an uncomfortable mixture of the naive and the messianic". Like motherhood and apple pie there was "much to agree with and little of substance" and no promise of more money.

There was little evidence, the heads argue, of "thought in detail or research".

Labour sources suggested that the real reason for the heads' attack was their dislike of Labour's determination to deal with failing schools, teachers and heads.

The heads described Labour's approach to bad teachers as "somewhat punitive".

But they said they were more concerned that Labour would restore local authorities' power to sack bad teachers and organise school improvement.

John Sutton, the association's general secretary, said many local authorities had been unwilling to act in the days when they had the job of firing teachers. In addition, self- management of schools had done much to stimulate innovation and growth.

John Dunford, the association's president, said: "We shall be asking Labour for a clear statement of the role of local authorities. Our fear is that local authorities may be intrusive.

"Some people in the Labour party want a return to the days of over-powerful local authorities running schools. That is only one element in the party and not the party leadership. But there are powers outlined in Labour's document that could allow it to happen."

The heads say homework is a matter for schools and heads, not government guidelines as Labour has proposed. Mr Dunford said: "This document suggests that the Labour Party will come into office thinking it can legislate every problem out of existence."

Peter Miller, the association's vice-president and deputy head of the Wrenn School, in Wellingborough, said: "Are they going to intervene and tell us that in year eight there must be setting in history? We are concerned that they are trampling over professional areas where direct political intervention should be avoided."

Estelle Morris, Labour's education spokeswoman, told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme that Labour did not intend to re-impose local authority control of schools. "What local education authorities will do is to support schools. The task for raising standards rests with schools themselves."

She said Labour had made clear spending commitments, including the promise to keep class sizes for five-to-seven-year-olds under 30.

The party's plans were based on the best research on school effectiveness and improvement as well as good practice, she said.