Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Failing Schools

When Tyler recently visited his old state grammar school, the headmistress showed him a foot high pile of paper on a table beside her desk. It was the pending tray for various official forms and dockets she was currently working on. Compared to the fearsome Wilfie of my day, her authority is strictly coralled, controlled, and monitored from above. Of course, if anything goes wrong, she's on her own.

I recalled this as I read the National Audit Office report that more than a quarter of primary schools and a fifth of secondary schools have no permanent head. The NAO says that heads are the “key to sustaining performance and improvement in any school”, but they also acknowledge that the numbers of “appropriately experienced people” applying for the posts are falling.

The NAO says that 23 per cent of secondary schools and at least 4 per cent of primaries are “poorly performing...We estimate that these 1,557 schools educate around 980,000 pupils, or 13 per cent of the school population...a sizeable number of schools encounter problems that put children’s education at risk, and some do not provide good value".

Ministers spent £840 million on improving struggling schools last year and £160 million on replacing failing comprehensives with city academies.

We need fundamental reform in our schools. Head teachers and their governors must be freed from Whitehall interference and form filling. They must be given real authority to manage their own schools, just as their customers must be given real choice.

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