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13.10.14

School commissioners should have power to fire headteachers – PM

School commissioners will be given power to remove governors and headteachers in failing state schools if the Conservatives win the next general election, David Cameron has announced.

The proposals, which will be included in the Torey election manifesto, will see more powers given to the eight regional school commissioners appointed by then education secretary Michael Gove. The commissioners currently oversee academies and free schools but have no control over state schools.

Under the PM’s new plan, the commissioners will have the power to step in and take control at any school identified as ‘failing’ by Ofsted. They will be able to implement new uniform codes, change homework policies and remove teachers.

Writing about his plans in the Daily Mail, Cameron said he will give the “expert” regional commissioners a wider remit and “unprecedented powers to overhaul failing schools”.

“If it’s the leadership that’s not working, they can make them remove it – reappointing the whole governing body if they have to. If the curriculum isn’t up to scratch, they can change it,” he writes.

“They can issue new disciplinary measures for bad behaviour. They can pair up failing schools with good local schools. And if they succeed, we will look at what they can do for schools that are said to ‘require improvement’ – what I call coasting schools.”

The PM says the plans would help 100,000 pupils in more than 500 schools currently graded by Ofsted as inadequate.

However the plan is likely to cause controversy because it gives government officials the power to change the status of a local authority-controlled school at a stroke. There are also doubts about whether eight commissioners are enough to handle a task on this scale.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT said that the new policy might be good politics but it makes for lousy school improvement

"The announcement is all the more intolerable, because the government’s own policies cause more delays to school improvement than any head teacher ever could,” he added.

“Of course NAHT wants to see rapid improvement in schools where it is needed. Sadly, the reality is that lasting change is rarely achieved quickly. Even more frustratingly, many delays to school improvement are of the government's own making:”

Hobby stressed that demolition of local oversight makes it impossible to stop problems before they become crises.  This along with the government focus on structural change instead of teaching quality causes unnecessary delays in school improvement, he said.

The plans were also attacked by the Conservatives' coalition partners, with a Lib Dem spokesperson saying they appeared to have been "cobbled together on the back of a fag packet".

"The Conservatives' problem is that they think that changing the name plates on schools is the answer to every problem, when the real issue is improving governance and leadership – which is far more important and requires a more serious form of engagement," the spokesperson added.

Cameron also announced plans for a ‘National Teaching Fellowship’ to recruit top teaching staff to work in failing schools.

“I want to see 1,500 of these top teachers signed up and in post by 2020. That means two in every school; every child within reach of first-class teaching,” he said.

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