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Blunkett revises with help of professors

David Blunkett's tenure as leader of Labour's education team has been a period of intense revision and development of policy.

The focus now is on raising standards in schools, with an acceptance that parents want the kind of information that is provided by exam performance tables.

In executing the changes, Mr Blunkett has listened to a number of academics, the most influential being Michael Barber, dean of new initiatives at the Institute of Education at London University.

Professor Barber heads the party's literacy task force which is mapping out a national strategy that could be implemented by a future Blairite government. In addition, much of Labour's policy on ways of improving schools can be traced to Barber.

Labour's controversial Fresh Start policy for closing failing schools and re-opening a new school with a fresh staff on the same site was first put forward by the professor.

Almost as important in Labour terms, is Tim Brighouse, the innovative director of education in Birmingham. Professor Brighouse has been able to put into practice the kind of policies Labour might adopt. He has encouraged schools to set targets, an initiative that is also being developed by Gillian Shephard, the Education and Employment Secretary. He has also set up the University of the First Age in an attempt to make sure no children fall through the education net.

Among practitioners, Leisha Fullick, the former director of education in the south London borough of Lewisham, has advised on the kind of measures needed to make schools more effective. Ms Fullick is now chief executive in Islington.

Tony Blair's office has taken a keen interest in developments, partly because David Miliband, head of policy, was previously the education researcher at the left-leaning think-tank, the Institute of Public Policy Research. Josh Hillman, another IPPR reseacher, has been developing Labour's plans for a University for Industry, which will provide access to training.

Academics tend to contribute to policy informally. The leader's office held three seminars with invited experts, but there is no standing group of advisers on education. Individuals are occasionally asked to produce papers to tackle particular gaps in policy. Professor Kathryn Riley of the Roehampton Institute in London has been looking at the changing role of local authorities.

Others, such as David Reynolds of Newcastle University, have been contacted because they have provoked debate on the most effective ways of organising classes. Professor Reynolds has examined the philosophy behind the sucess of Taiwanese schools in ensuring that children have basic literacy and numeracy skills.

In addition, there are working groups on what are considered to be key areas. Labour back-bencher Margaret Hodge has been in charge in drafting the policy for combined child care and nursery education. The details of the policy are due to be published in two weeks.

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