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Labour to build on home links

Labour has made minor amendments after consulting widely over the past year on its consultation paper Every Child is Special. But Helen Liddell, the party's Scottish education spokeswoman, has promised further announcements in the run-up to the election. One option is believed to be a Minister for Children.

The revised policy, retitled Building Scotland's Future, will continue Labour's tough and tender approach of offering compacts for pupils and parents, with promises of higher standards, homework clubs, action on incompetent teachers and failing schools and a strengthened role for the General Teaching Council in the post-probation area.

Mrs Liddell, however, appears to have softened her stance on parent advocates to act as a bridge between home and school and taken on board criticism about school commissions, which would replace school boards.

Significantly, the Educational Institute of Scotland was quick to welcome the party's "broadly constructive" approach.

Mrs Liddell insisted that the public response to her document had been largely favourable. It has also found favour with Scottish Office ministers who recently adapted and extended her plans on several fronts, not least the suggestion to give the GTC scope to remove incompetent teachers. The White Paper on Raising the Standard has also seized on targets for schools and a contract with parents.

While Labour speaks of "a new dawn" it also promises no "no quick fixes" after 18 years of Conservative rule. Mrs Liddell placed what Labour calls a compact for every child at the heart of the party's agenda but reaffirmed it would take as long as 10 to 15 years to implement.

The document states that assessment will take place shortly after children enter nursery school and adds: "With parental involvement, a programme should be mapped out, targets set and packages of need identified."

By the end of year two in secondary school, pupils themselves would take over responsibility for the compact, helping to build their self-esteem.

Pressed on Labour's spending commitments, Mrs Liddell admitted that the programmes for the next two years already outlined by the Government would remain in place but said that in the third year of a Labour administration there would be greater scope for extra spending on education.

There was "a need for a decade of investment" to overcome the gaps in provision that would be inherited from the Conservatives.

Mrs Liddell promised to scrap nursery vouchers, phase out the assisted places scheme, rescind plans for compulsory testing in the first two years of secondary school and phase in the Higher Still reforms. Teachers' salaries should continue to be negotiated nationally, she said.

THE KEY POINTS

* Compacts for every child will set out expectations and commitments. Assessment to begin at the age of three or four. The compact will be regularly reviewed and updated to set appropriate learning targets. Pupils and parents will make commitments on homework, effort,attendance and behaviour. Parents will receive an annual assessment on progress.

* Class sizes will be cut in the early primary years and early intervention strategies introduced.

* Nursery places for all four-year-olds and moves in the first two years of a Labour government to places for three-year-olds. A national childcare strategy will be developed by an early years forum.

* School commissions to replace school boards will have a wider membership, including the parent teacher association. Parent advocates may act as a bridge between schools and parents.

* Teachers to be consulted about in-service training and staff development profiles.

* Possible sabbaticals or study leave for long established staff. Classroom assistants to ease administrative burdens.

* Councils and professional associations invited to produce blueprints for removing "demotivated" teachers or those who have "taken the wrong career choice". A strengthened and reorganised GTC to encompass teacher development.

* Special training for headteachers and a register of senior teachers qualified to become heads.

* Schools that fail to meet "tough" national standards will be able to call on local authorities for help. Schools to publish their own performance targets annually, building on previous best performance. A network of homework clubs throughout the country will raise standards.

* Improved school inspections, with "unscheduled" visits by HMIs. Powers to close underperforming schools.

Assisted places, page 6

Comment, page 19

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