`Super heads' to rescue schools

Blair speech today will set out his plans for making education Labour's leading priority
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A new breed of super headteacher, paid over the odds and running more than one school, would be created by a Labour government.

Under plans to be announced in a speech today by Tony Blair, the Labour leader, successful heads would be paid to take over nearby failing schools. They might run another secondary school as well as their own, or one or more feeder primary schools.

Heads were last night sceptical about the plan. John Sutton, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "Having run a multi- site school, it isn't something I would wish on my worst enemy. I think heads will be chary of doing this. They may feel that their success would be diluted by taking over other schools."

Mr Blair, who promised at this year's party conference that his priorities would be "education, education and education", will make his speech at Ruskin College, Oxford, where 20 years ago the Labour prime minister, Lord Callaghan, made his famous attack on school standards.

Mr Blair will also make plain his intention to make the Department for Education and Employment a great office of state alongside the Treasury, the Foreign Office and the Home Office. This was foreshadowed last week in a speech by Professor Michael Barber, a Labour education policy adviser, who suggested that a Labour secretary of state for education might live in Downing Street and have the use of Chequers, the prime minister's country residence. It reflects the high esteem in which Mr Blair holds David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman.

Under the plan for good schools to take over bad, failing schools would be identified by local authorities and successful head teachers from neighbouring schools would be asked to tender for contracts to take them over. Mr Sutton said he thought the only aspect of the scheme that might interest secondary heads was taking over some responsibility for feeder primary schools.

There have been repeated complaints from secondary head teachers about low standards of literacy and numeracy among pupils entering their schools. Another incentive might be the need, in competitive times, to ensure a good supply of pupils to their own school .

Research shows that a good head is one of the most important factors in a school's success. Local authorities already remove those in charge of failing schools. Labour's proposal comes only weeks after a new head was brought in to restore discipline at Ridings School in Halifax, West Yorkshire. The incomer is Peter Clark, head of a local grant-maintained school.

Labour has already said that it will close failing schools and reopen them under new heads and governing bodies. A head who took over a failing school would be able to sack teachers and the remaining staff would be deployed across both schools. If the school still failed it would be shut down.

Mr Blair will call for a new consensus in education and the end to battles between right and left, teachers and politicians, which have been a feature of the past 30 years.

Leading article, page 11