Headlines: December 10th, 1997

Education plans published in the white paper make it clear that the strategy for raising education standards is a two pronged approach focusing on fostering excellence and strenuously deterring under performance.Local Education Authorities, heads and teachers will be encouraged to perform better. LEAs will have to devise three year educational development plans which aim to raise standards. The plans, which will be developed in discussion with schools, will set out how the LEA is to help boost school improvement and support schools in reaching performance targets. The targets will be agreed every year with the LEA and published.

There will be a drive to raise the status, morale and professionalism of teaching. This will include legislation to set up a General Teaching Council and the introduction of a new qualification for the head teachers. Where Education Action Zones are set up to raise standards, there will be flexible pay to attract the best teachers. Proposals for developing advanced skills will be piloted in the Action Zones. There will be freedom for schools that are succeeding to get on with their own improvements.

Under performance will also be tackled at different levels. The legislation establishes firm mechanisms for identifying and tackling under performance in local authorities and individual schools, based on clear criteria. If an LEA fails to support its schools, there will be power to send an improvement team in to direct the LEA staff to take action or to contract out its functions to others until the LEA has shown it can carry out its legal duties. Where schools under perform, LEAs will be able to issue warning notices that demonstrate key weaknesses and affect standards. Where a school is clearly struggling, they will be able to appoint extra governors or withdraw financial delegation to help turn the school around. There will also be the power to offer a “Fresh Start” to schools which are failing and show no evidence of recovering “. This could mean closing the school and re-opening it on a new site with a new head, some new staff and a new name.

The Bill will also give powers to tackle incompetent teachers and schools will be required to have capability procedures in place so that they can remove failing teachers from the classroom.

This strategy for raising standards is concerned with the long term, but it could deliver much shorter term benefits if the initial support from the many stakeholders is maintained.