MOST politicians wait until they retire to publish their speeches, but Education Secretary David Blunkett is quick off the mark. Raising Aspirations in the 21st Century, the latest glossy pamphlet from the Department for Education and Employment, is not a traditional policy document but the official version of his speech to the North of England education conference last week.
Some will see this as using public money for political ends - it is certainly Mr Blunkett's attempt to get his message across without press interference. Others, however, may appreciate the opportunity to read for themselves a key policy statement which is certain to have a major impact on secondary education.
In the booklet he outlines what he sees as the Government's achievements so far and sets out the four main elements of Labour's schools strategy - firm foundations in the early years and primary school, school improvement, inclusion and modernising comprehensives.
Primary teachers are referred to as "world leaders" for their part in the literacy and numeracy strategies. But such compliments are unlikely to ease the worries of their counterparts in secondary schools as the spotlight moves onto them.
Mr Blunkett sets himself two new challenges: easing the transition of children from one stage of education to the next and improving performance at key stage 3. He says: "Achievement slips in the transition from primary to secondary school ... (pupils) need high expectations and they need to see the new foundations in literacy, numeracy and science at primary level extended and built on from the moment they enter secondary education."
A raft of policies will be introduced to achieve this. New "optional" English and maths tests for all 12-year-olds will be piloted later this year. "For those who did not achieve level 4 at the end of primary school the test will show whether they have reached that crucial landmarka year later," he says. Higher-level tests will be set for more able pupils.
Secondary teachers will get a taste of the pressure their primary colleagues are under with statutory targets for key stage tests at 14. Schools will be expected to set targets in December for the tests in 2002.
The transfer of data between primaries and secondaries is to be improved so that schools have the information they require to meet the needs of each child.
Teachers will be expected to retrain. "Over the next year or so we will be developing an ambitious new programme of professional development for all secondary teachers to strengthen their teaching, improve their subject knowledge and enable them to make their teaching more inspiring," says Mr Blunkett.
If this works every child will gain a qualification before leaving school. And with the basics in place, Labour's next step will be to increase diversity for 14 to 19-year-olds.
The aim is for "workplace learning, a wide variety of languages (ancient and modern), the full range of the arts and sciences, early access to university courses, mentoring schemes ..., summer schools, both academic and practical, more international exchanges and through technology, a wider range of tailored programmes than ever before".
Should that happen there'll be no quibbles about the DFEE giving speeches the glossy treatment.
Copies of 'Raising Aspirations in the 21st Century' are available from DFEE publications, PO Box 5050, Sudbury, Suffolk C010 6ZQ.
THE KEY STAGE 3 REVOLUTION
* Statutory targets in English, maths and science at 14 from 2002
* Tests for 12-year-olds in literacy and numeracy. Optional but schools will have to explain to the Office for Standards in Education why they haven't used them.
* Improved professional development will focus on higher-order thinking skills.
* The number of summer schools will double
* Better data transfer between primary and