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Jam tomorrow line won't satisfy heads

The headteachers deliver their millennium manifesto to candidates, leaving no room for half measures

Headteachers have vowed to ensure would-be MPs debate key education issues and warned they would not accept promises of jam tomorrow.

The National Association of Head Teachers spoke out as it delivered its demands for the next government - smaller classes, abolition of nursery vouchers and league tables and more money for schools.

It sent an 18-point manifesto to every candidate as the three main parties prepare to trawl the teacher union conferences this week.

David Hart, NAHT general secretary, hailed the May 1 General Election as the most important for the country's education service since the Second World War.

"It is imperative that the next government pursues policies which balance pressure for higher and higher standards with real support for schools, " he said.

"Shoestring budgets, recruitment and retention crises, rising class sizes, and under-resourced special education needs are hardly the hallmark of a civilised country.

"The teaching profession will not be fobbed off with talk of jam tomorrow. Promises of limited action to rescue schools from their current plight would be a betrayal of the pupils, their teachers and their parents."

The NAHT manifesto, called Education beyond the millennium. The foremost challenge for the next government, includes demands on school budgets, pay, class sizes, testing, inspections, discipline and teacher training.

It calls for urgent consideration of a national funding formula "to remove this funding lottery" and says that the next government must fund teachers' pay rises in full.

The manifesto calls the nursery vouchers scheme - which goes nationwide next week - a wasteful use of resources which does not meet the needs of all four year-olds.

"Government should move to a system where all parents can require quality nursery vouchers for their four-year-old children (and eventually three-year-olds) without the bureaucratic mechanism of vouchers," it says.

On testing and assessment, tests should be adapted and national curriculum demands should be reduced.

It says league tables, "a crude blunt instrument that do little to inform parental choice", should be abolished. "If the next government adheres to the principle of tables, it must change their context, so that they measure real progress and produce information which reflects the entire ability range in a fair and consistent manner."

The NAHT wants a greater emphasis on school self-evaluation, the establishment of a general teaching council and action to define the powers and responsibilities of heads and governing bodies.

And in a swipe at the Government's drive for more grammar schools, it says selection is bound to reduce choice for parents whose children fail to make the grade. "Further, there is no real evidence of parental demand for more grammar schools."

Its manifesto calls for the return of the probationary year for newly-qualified teachers saying it is essential they possess the appropriate skills in teaching, classroom management, the early identification of children's needs and maintaining discipline.

It warns that unless funding levels are increased to cut class sizes many schools will be hard-pressed to contain discipline problems.

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