Headlines: May 13th, 2003

Schools in London are to undergo their most radical reform for more than fifty years under plans set out by the Education and Skills Secretary Charles Clarke. The plan could see failing schools close, the best head teachers given more freedom and a new status for the capital’s teachers.Mr. Clarke said London had some world-class schools, colleges and universities, and the city had seen a real rise in standards since 1997 but too many schools were failing and too many parents faced agonising decisions over which secondary school to choose for their children. Only radical reform and a relentless drive to root out failure would put an end to this situation. There had to be a visible and radical break with the past to create a culture of achievement.

He detailed plans for a three-pronged programme of reform. First there would be an unremitting focus on the boroughs of Islington, Hackney, Lambeth, Southwark and Haringey, which had many of the lowest-performing schools. There would also be an exceptionally close relationship with failing schools, taking whatever decisions were necessary to raise quality and there would be a new drive to improve the standing of education across London, including new opportunities and support for teachers.

Mr. Clarke said weak head teachers would be removed and stronger heads would get more freedom, including over staffing matters, and support through the Leadership Incentive Grant. Each low performing school would have a tailor-made improvement plan, set out by the school, the LEA, the DFES and local business wherever possible. The plans would set clear timetables to turn round performance, and those schools that fail will close.

By 2008, he said, there would be at least 30 new independent state-funded City Academies, at least 290 more specialist schools, at least 20 brand new secondary schools and 20 new sixth-forms. There would be an open competition to determine who should build and run the 20 new schools.

Turning to teachers, Mr. Clarke said London should be the pinnacle for the profession and he announced the introduction of chartered London Teacher status, a new qualification for teachers who stayed in the city to teach. There would also be London Commissioner Teachers, experts working in the toughest areas. To help attract and retain the best heads, teachers and support staff the reforms will include a new deal on housing, through a mortgage guarantee scheme and a mortgage subsidy for high quality teachers who choose to remain in London.

Businesses will be encouraged to get behind schools and for every pupil there would be a Student Pledge, guaranteeing them the opportunity to enjoy the full range of sporting, cultural and business opportunities through work experience, after school clubs and school partnership with business. In addition to a new, dedicated ten million pound Gifted and Talented Centre there would be more ‘dawn-to-dusk’ centres to help pupils fulfil their potential and help working parents to overcome problems of after school care. That would be matched by a relentless focus on all forms of indiscipline, preventing troublemakers from stopping hard-working pupils from learning.