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Collins: No fees, no half measures

Speech to the National Association of Head Teachers Conference at the Telford International Centre

"On Thursday the country has the chance to vote for change.

Michael Howard has given me clear and specific orders on what he expects me to deliver as the education part of that change. And he's been clear to every member of his team - we come up with the goods or we are out.

That's the world in which you as head teachers operate - it's about time that it was the world in which Education Secretaries live too.

So what will change?

New legal protections and powers for you and your teachers to help you create and enforce discipline. An end to the one-size fits all philosophy of universal inclusion. More freedom for you as Head teachers. More money under your direct control. Far less interference and second-guessing from Whitehall. A slimmed down curriculum. Fewer, more rigorous, exams. And no top-up or tuition fees limiting ambition by confining access to higher education to those with wealthy parents.

The disruption, abuse, insulting behaviour and even violence with which some teachers and head teachers have to cope today is wholly unacceptable. A new Conservative Government will take immediate action to help and to ensure proper discipline in the classroom.

The Queen's Speech later this month will include a Teacher Protection Bill. No later than the 1st December this year it will be in effect. So before the end of the autumn term appeals panels will be abolished, and you will have the final say on the exclusion of disruptive pupils. You will be permitted, as you are not today, to exclude a child if their parents are themselves violent or disruptive. You will be able to insist upon legally enforceable home-school contracts, requiring parents to uphold and support your disciplinary procedures, as a condition for admission and retention of their child. And teachers and head teachers who face allegations of abuse will at long last, and as they should, be given a guaranteed statutory entitlement to anonymity at least until the point when a criminal charge is brought. It's time we stopped good teachers having their personal and professional lives ruined on the unsupported word of a possibly malicious child.

Many mainstream schools are doing wonderful work with Special Needs children and I applaud that. But we all know that inclusion is right for some children and emphatically not right for others. We will take urgent statutory powers to halt the closure of any more special schools, and ensure in particular that the option of separate provision continues in all areas for MLD and EBD children as well as those with the most severe Special Needs.

Today some schools are funded better than others, and some schools are freer than others. We intend to tackle those distortions and inequalities. Every school will be Grant-Maintained, self-governing, and able to run its own budget. We will scrap the requirement for schools to raise £50,000 themselves in order to become specialist. So the freedoms presently confined to the favoured few - whether they be City Academies or foundation schools - will be extended, indeed increased, for all. No politician of any party is now or ever could be qualified to run your school for you - so you must be allowed to run it yourself. We will also reduce the current unjustifiably large gaps between the level of per pupil funding in rural and urban areas - fairness should mean fairness to every child at every school.

Contrary to some wild and absurd assertions from our opponents that we would sack every teacher in the country, we will instead continue to put more money into the system. Indeed Ruth Kelly repeatedly refused on the Today programme last week to match our commitment to raise school spending from £47 billion this year to £70 billion by 2011. She will only commit to match our pledge to raise spending to £62 billion by 2009. I will resist the temptation to accuse Labour of planning a cut of £8 billion in school spending since they won't match our larger figure - but on their logic I could of course do so.

The big difference between us lies in how much of that money you would get to spend without interference. We would eliminate the current absurdly complex system of funding involving unpredictable bidding processes and arbitrary and unpredictable decisions. You will instead ultimately have one single funding stream, clearly and firmly predicted well before the start of the school year. We will maintain the move towards three year funding, but will take a great deal of the budgets currently spent by Local Education Authorities and by the Department itself and push that down to you for you to spend as you see fit. You are far better qualified than anyone in local or central government to determine how you should run your school and pay your bills.

This has a clear implication for PPA and the workload agreement. Very few head teachers are against the idea in principle. Many are fed up that yet again they have been asked to deliver a Ministerial initiative without sufficient resources. We will sharply cut back on the number of initiatives, circulars, forms and instructions from both Whitehall and town hall - and any that remain will be funded fully or will not happen at all.

Self-government for schools and letting go means precisely that. You will decide, together with your governors, on your own admissions policies. If you are oversubscribed, you will be able to decide for yourselves if you want to expand - and if you do, capital funding and planning permission for you to do so will as far as possible flow automatically. You will have much more say over the curriculum you wish to teach - the currently overburdened National Curriculum will be reduced from 80% of the timetable to a maximum of 50%.

We will move towards fewer, simpler, exams and tests. SATs at the age of 7 will be cut right back. A-Levels will return to being a two year exam, rather than two sets of annual ones, to give 17 year olds room to breathe. OFSTED inspections will be reduced in both their intensity and their intrusiveness. We will shake up the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority - and the exam boards - to ensure that a halt is called to the dispiriting absurdities of permitting a pass mark at GCSE with 16% of the marks or the assertion that a single ICT GNVQ represents the same achievement by either a school or a pupil as four good GCSEs.

And a new Conservative Government would salvage more of the Tomlinson report that the Government which commissioned it. We would keep GCSEs and A-Levels, but are quite happy to do so as part of a single integrated diploma covering both academic and vocational qualifications. Tomlinson's recommendations for less coursework, and for separate assessments of literacy and numeracy, are also sensible. It is long past time that we stopped assuming that academic and vocational education are entirely different, when every child in the 21st century is likely to need some of both.

Finally, few things could be more sad for a head teacher who has seen a bright teenager blossom, perhaps against the odds, than to see a child who has every prospect of benefiting from higher education being put off it because of the fear of massive debt.

So a new Conservative Government will ensure that top-up fees are NOT introduced in September 2006 - and instead that up-front tuition fees are scrapped from that date.

Unlike Labour, we are not content with burdening the next generation of students with double the amount of debt which those at university today already face. And unlike the Liberal Democrats, our abolition of fees is not dependent either on heroic assumptions about the amount of punitive taxation you can levy on the most internationally mobile part of the UK workforce nor on the belief that it is appropriate to expect most students to study in their home town and for just two years. That's not a free life at uni - it's just more of the same at home. For us, it is no fees, no half-measures.

So this then is the chance for change on Thursday. More freedom, more money, and more trust for you as professionals - and more hope for your pupils and students too. I very much hope to have the chance to work with you and your colleagues in the months and years ahead."

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