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Blunkett sets out education reforms


Labour leader Tony Blair chats to Education Secretary David Blunkett.

Labour leader Tony Blair chats to Education Secretary David Blunkett.

Labour leader Tony Blair chats to Education Secretary David Blunkett.

Labour would put power over education back into local hands to end the burgeoning "Kafkaesque" central control of schools under plans to boost standards drawn up by David Blunkett.

The former education secretary accused Michael Gove of freeing some schools from all forms of accountability except directly to him.

That has led to troubles such as the impending closure of Al-Madinah in Derby, which was branded "dysfunctional" by inspectors, Mr Blunkett warned.

Contracts binding some schools to the Education Secretary but leaving them outside local scrutiny make a mockery of the Coalition's localism policy, the Labour MP claimed in an in-depth report on school reform.

Labour would turn round control of the system by shifting powers away from central government and creating new i ndependent d irectors of s chool s tandards to drive up results in local areas and intervene in troubled schools, as well as taking the views of parents into account.

It would give all types of schools the same freedoms in certain areas, with a "light-touch curriculum" that would allow them to offer different types of courses, including vocational ones targeted at local industries.

All schools would be free to set the times of their school day and week.

Under the plans schools would be opened up to Freedom of Information requests and would have to publish certain financial information online, including major contract details, to increase transparency.

The Labour education policy review sets out 40 recommendations aimed at "putting students and parents first" which have been "fully accepted" by shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt.

Mr Blunkett says memory tests - something Mr Gove has pushed strenuously - are "important" but warns the education system must offer "much more than this".

He adds: "Schools and colleges are not factories to instil facts, and then hope that young people somehow make sense of them and become functioning and creative adults.

"We have to provide the opportunity to build those thinking or critical skills, which allow the analytical faculties to develop - to be able to challenge, as well as to make sense of the ever-changing world around us."

The report recommends the creation of temporary "education incubation zones" where the latest teaching methods and technology would be used to help raise standards and the introduction of a duty on government to represent the interests of pupils and parents.

It underlines Labour's existing calls for teachers to be properly qualified and an end to the ability of some schools to opt out of local admissions codes.

Mr Blunkett said the emphasis of Labour's policy was "entirely on delivering inspiration teaching and aspirational learning".

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: "The interests of children and young people have suffered as a consequence of an ideological obsession on structural reforms and a desire to create a free market in education.

"All children and young people, regardless of where they live or learn, should be entitled to access a broad and balanced education which ensures high standards.

"However, the coalition Government's structural reforms have weakened democratic accountability and handed more power to remote education providers at the expense of parents and local communities.

"Serious fault lines have now appeared across the education landscape which mean that children's entitlement to a local school place, fair admissions, a national curriculum and to be taught by qualified teachers are at the mercy of individual education providers.

"The Blunkett review indicates that whilst there is waste and inefficiency in the system, it can be tackled through regulation, effective accountability and better local strategic coordination of education.

"Properly-constituted directors of schools standards, working alongside reinvigorated local authorities, could provide a template for strengthening local partnership working and stakeholder engagement."

Mr Hunt said: "David's record on raising school standards speaks for itself. This is an incredibly important report.

"Under Michael Gove schools are being left to 'sink or swim' - more than 1.5 million children are in under-performing schools. That's why Labour will introduce new and robust local oversight of all schools to raise standards. That's what new Directors of School Standards will bring.

"Labour will spread the success of our London Challenge programme which transformed London's secondary schools from being the worst to the best- performing in the space of a decade - Labour will deliver this focus on standards across the country."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "Free schools and academies are already held more rigorously to account than council-run schools. We have consistently demonstrated that we take quick and decisive action if children are being denied the education they deserve - no matter what type of school they attend.

"We moved to close Discovery New School (in West Sussex) just seven months after its inadequate Ofsted rating, while Al-Madinah is already seeing real improvements thanks to our swift intervention.

"In contrast, local authorities have presided over schools which have been in special measures year on year and done nothing - there are currently 40 council-run schools that have been in special measures for 18 months or longer.

"Since its inception, the academies programme has freed schools from interference by politicians and bureaucrats and put teachers back in the driving seat. It is thanks to this Government's reforms - including the expansion of the academies programme - that the number of pupils being taught in failing secondary schools has fallen by 250,000 since 2010."