Failing schools ‘morally and economically unaccptable’ says Heseltine

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The number of failing schools across the country is “morally and economically unacceptable”, according to Tory former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine.

Demanding action, the Conservative peer said reports by the schools watchdog Ofsted were “chilling” and argued the level of failure would not be tolerated in the private sector.

He warned there were too many people running organisations “at the bottom”, which produced students who would never have the skills urgently needed by the labour market.

Lord Heseltine, who was sacked as a government adviser last year for rebelling over Brexit, made his stark comments during a debate in the House of Lords on the Government’s recently published Industrial Strategy, aimed at tackling the UK’s poor productivity and boosting wages.

The former president of the board of trade also warned that the UK was fighting for its “economic survival” in the face of ruthless international competition and called on the Government to set up a competitiveness unit to provide real-time analysis to decision-makers.

Raising his concerns about the standard of some schools and colleges Lord Heseltine said: “There are too many people running organisations at the bottom, an unacceptable level of attainment in skills and schools.

“The Ofsted reports are chilling because they indicate across the country a degree of complacency about the failure of particularly some of the schools, but I think the training colleges are now probably to be included.

“If this was the private sector there would be no capability to tolerate 20%, or whatever it is, 15% of your branches failing to deliver.

“There would be an end to your ability to run that company.”

He added: “This is morally and economically unacceptable.

“That we are training a proportion of people who will never produce the skills that we need to fill the gaps that already exist.

“And that is doubly so if we are going to train a supply of skilled labour which is now part of major government policy.

“So something needs to be done.

“This is looking at the individual schools that are failing and cooperating at the local order for the local communities to address this issue.

“It may mean that you will sack some governors, it may mean that you will get rid of some head teachers.

“But he acceptance of this level of failure in our skills provision is quite unacceptable in any language that’s got anything to do with world competitiveness.”

Lord Heseltine also argued the need for a competitiveness unit in government to provide a monitoring role.

He said: “We are fighting for our economic survival against ruthless highly-motivated, highly disciplined, highly-skilled competitive nations and there is no remorse.”

The peer added: “We need to know what they are doing, we need to know how they are doing it, we need to know reality - where we stand in international competitiveness.”

Lord Heseltine repeated his call for devolution of power from Whitehall with the creation of more elected mayors and argued the case for annual progress reports on the Industrial Strategy, similar to large companies.

He said: “We are beginning on a journey of vastly important significance.

“The journey will be more enthusiastically monitored and pursued if we are told every year how well we did.”