LETTER: Motivate schools by reward, not bribery

Sir: We appear to have reached a new low in the accepted standards of conduct of public life by ministers when the Independent reports "Cash lure to increase opt-out schools" (28 December).

Just how is the Secretary of State to define the "popular schools" to hand out one-off cash sweeteners to in the hope they will opt out? Will it be the number of middle-class parents applying; the distance people are prepared to send their children to school; applicants to places; applicants with higher education qualifications? The list is endless.

If Gillian Shepherd really wants to push schools to make children work hard, there must be a better way. She could start by introducing a "good schools" programme.

Such a programme would include a learning guarantee and ensure that teachers were up to scratch to deliver it, a system to see that each school improved its performance each year in a measurable way, a method of measuring the education distance travelledby each pupil each year or term - which means knowing where they started from. Pupils from homes where neither parent had been in higher education or further eduction could be worth more to the school in income flow - which means highly motivated teachers would be bidding for these kids so as to get them to travel longer education distances. They might even have to turn away middle-class parents to do so. Prizes and sanctions would be needed so that distance travelled meant extra cash for the school.

Under a "good schools" programme, head teachers would be on fixed-term contracts. And if one school was doing so well that another school wanted to be part of it, a means should be allowed for what my detractors would call "takeovers".

Yours faithfully, JEFF ROOKER MP for Birmingham Perry Barr (Lab)

House of Commons London, SW1

The writer was Labour Spokesman on Education, 1992-93.