Labour targets inner city

The Labour party is to establish education action zones in disadvantaged areas that will attack both economic poverty and poverty of achievement.

A new body, made up from a partnership between schools, business and local authorities, will be created to co-ordinate measures aimed at raising standards.

The education action zones, launched in Labour's election manifesto this week, will play a central part in its drive to tackle poor standards, particularly in urban areas.

A Labour government would concentrate on such measures as homework clubs, literacy and numeracy centres and technology training for teachers. Although there will be no new money, each scheme will bring with it cash already allocated - such as through lottery and millennium funds - into the one area.

The Labour party will discuss with the School Teachers' Review Body whether heads can be attracted to action zones with extra pay. The review body has already rejected the Education and Employment Secretary's suggestion to pay heads more in difficult areas. Advanced skills teachers will also be concentrated in schools in the zone.

In a speech to the National Union of Teachers this week, David Blunkett, who will become Education and Employment Secretary if Labour wins, said he wanted to end the situation in many inner-city areas where children were being written off.

The emphasis on raising standards was a central theme in all the parties' election manifestos, where there was consensus on the importance of school improvement schemes and measures to improve literacy and numeracy.

The Tories have distanced themselves from their opponents by promising to allow every town to have a grammar school, where parents so wish. While Labour and the Liberal Democrats claim to be against selection, however, neither say they will abolish grammar schools, preferring to leave it to the discretion of parents.

The Tory manifesto sets out plans to push all schools further down the self-governing road. LEAs schools will be given a greater proportion of the budget and will be made responsible for the employment of their staff and admissions, putting them on a par with voluntary-aided schools. Councils schools will, if they wish, be able to take ownership of their assets.

If the Tories return to power they are expected to salvage the parts of the Education Act that allow increased selection and extend grant-maintained schools' powers, which were lost during the horse-trading at the end of Parliament. If Labour gains power, it will bring out a Bill concentrating on raising standards. But there are hints that it may delay restructuring the school system into three sorts of schools, community, foundation and aided, as proposed in Diversity and Excellence.

The Lib Dems are the only ones to give a clear commitment to extra investment in their manifesto. The party says it will raise an extra #163;2 billion for schools from a penny increase in income tax. This will allow them to double spending on books and equipment and reduce class sizes so that no child aged five to 11 will be in a class of 30 or more.

Labour will reduce classes to 30 and below for five- to seven-year-olds from money from the Assisted Places Scheme. A windfall tax of between #163;3bn and #163;5bn will be used for youth employment. Any extra money will come from welfare savings and private partnerships.

The Conservative manifesto does not promise any more money for education.

All three parties put teachers' performances in the frontline. The Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems have all pledged to make it easier to sack poor teachers.

The Conservative party says it will establish a more rigorous system of appraising teachers that reflects how well their pupils do in exams and tests.

It says: "This will identify which teachers need more help and, where necessary, which teachers need to be replaced."

The Labour party has promised "speedy, but fair, procedures to remove teachers who cannot do the job".

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