The Conservatives in Blackpool: Patten attacks parents who 'walk away': Minister focuses on duty to children

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JOHN PATTEN, Secretary of State for Education, attacked parents who walked away from their responsibilities to provide their children with a caring and disciplined home and left teachers to pick up the pieces.

'The greatest threat we face in this country of a return to the 'two nations' that Disraeli once warned of, is no longer the division between rich and poor but rather between those who have a stable, caring childhood and those who do not,' Mr Patten said.

Winding up a debate in which Tory representatives belaboured the 'left-wing educational establishment', he appealed to teachers' unions to end their opposition to testing. 'Testing is here to stay,' he said to prolonged applause.

Mr Patten announced that from January votes in governing bodies on whether schools should ballot for grant-maintained status should be held in secret. 'This will help to clip the wings of some of the left- wing local authority placemen and placewomen who try to manipulate what goes on in governors' meetings and bully parents' representatives on governing bodies.'

Mr Patten said afterwards he believed the regulations would quick en the pace of schools opting for grant-maintained status. 'Secret ballots will encourage parents who feel intimidated, even if they have not been intimidated, from holding up their hands at meetings.'

To date 1,007 of the 24,000 state schools in England and Wales have opted out of local authority control - the great majority of them secondary schools. Mr Patten said that at the present rate, by the time of the next election more than half of secondary schools would have grant-maintained status.

He said parents should be complementing the work of teachers, encouraging their children, 'making sure they get to school on time, properly turned out and with a decent breakfast inside them'. Parents should read with their children and regularly visit the school to talk to teachers.

'It is in the family that children learn the difference between right and wrong. To me there is no greater betrayal than having a child and then walking away.'