Education charity urges powers for parents over failing schools


Parents should be given a legal right to intervene in failing schools and sack headteachers, an education charity has demanded.

The New Schools Network is calling for the creation of a "parental trigger" which could also mean schools could be forced to become academies.

The charity, which supports groups that set up free schools, said the radical measures would help drive up standards.

But teachers' unions branded the proposals "ridiculous" and warned they would turn school leadership into a popularity contest.

Nick Timothy, the charity's director, said free schools are giving parents greater control over their education.

"But there needs to be more accountability in the system so parents can get the change they want when a local school is failing," he added.

"We believe the 'parental trigger' will be an important legal right for parents and a way of driving up standards in schools that aren't performing well."

Under the proposals, which the charity is putting forward to MPs at the Education Select Committee, parents who complain about their school will be entitled to a formal response from their regional schools commissioner.

If the commissioner agrees there is a need for change, the school could have its headteacher removed, be converted into an academy or subjected to an action plan to lift standards.

The charity warned that too many children have to go to failing schools, while many parents are resorting to "extreme measures" including moving home to get their child into a good school.

It warned "there simply are not enough good places to go round" with one in six children going to failing primary schools and nearly one in four children attending failing secondary schools.

But teaching unions said the proposals would backfire and damage parental involvement by fostering "suspicion".

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Our schools are already subject to multiple accountability measures including Ofsted inspections which often lead to heads leaving schools.

"One of the biggest problems facing schools currently is the difficulty of recruiting teachers and headteachers. If any politician were foolish enough to implement this New Schools Network proposal, they would make the situation much worse.

"The proposal, if implemented, would damage parental involvement which is fostered by building confidence and engagement, not suspicion."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said: "Headteachers are already publicly and stringently accountable - to the extent that we are struggling to get people to do the job.

"Looking for new ways to sack them is hugely counterproductive and an appalling use of the New School Network's time.

"A publicly funded charity should not be making such ridiculous proposals. The Government would do well to distance itself from these suggestions immediately."

He added: "School leadership is not a popularity contest; you must sometimes make difficult decisions when you are improving a school. Some of our most effective heads would have lost their jobs under this proposal."

A spokesman for the Department for Education said it would consider the proposals but stressed that it is already introducing new measures to turn around failing schools and improve those that are coasting.

This includes bringing in top education experts to advise coasting schools on how to improve, and proposals to force councils and governing bodies to actively progress the conversion of failing schools into academies.

He said: "While we already have in place a robust system to deal with school complaints, we take all parents' concerns seriously and routinely pass them on to the relevant bodies.

"We will consider the New Schools Network's proposals and continue to ensure that regional schools commissioners, local authorities, Ofsted or our own education advisers, are able to promptly deal with all issues raised by parents and intervene if necessary."