In recent weeks, I have been presenting Labour's vision of education in the new century in a series of speeches to the teacher conferences. My proposals on improved discipline and tackling the backlog in school building, repairs and maintenance were an important element of Labour's new compact withthe teaching profession which I set out yesterday at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers conference in Glasgow. It is designed to improve morale and standards in the new century.
Teachers at the chalk face are at the heart of our crusade for higher standards. That is why we seek to lift the standing and the standards of the profession through the 10 points in the compact.
For 17 years, teachers have been buffeted from pillar to post, demoralised, undervalued and often expected to cope with hastily cobbled-together proposals, constant change and Government confusion about its objectives. We must put behind us the rhetoric of yesteryear which leads John Major to believe that only a tiny fraction of the population should have access to top-class education.
Labour expects a lot of the teaching profession and in return a great deal is expected of us. Our compact will seek to begin that process of building a new accord.
* First, we will improve the adult-pupil ratio to make classroom management easier for teachers. We will ensure that no five, six or seven-year-old is in a class of over 30, using resources from phasing out the Assisted Places Scheme. We will also encourage the use of teacher assistants trained to work with teachers in the classroom.
In addition, we will seek to recruit volunteers who do not wish to do a full-time job but are prepared to give their time as associate teachers, helping in the classroom, the playground or in after-school study centres.
* Second, we will give a major boost to a drive to attract highly-qualified graduates into the classroom, targeting the core subjects of English, maths and technology. Recruitment to teacher training courses fell by 13 per cent in technology and 8 per cent in maths over the past year, between this and last year. Over the past eight years, there has been a 28 per cent fall in English teachers and 23 per cent in maths teachers.
We will also ensure that trainee teachers get a thorough grounding in information technology skills, followed up with in-service training. A report by the Department for Education and Employment last year found that only 26 per cent of primary teachers and 24 per cent of secondary teachers had attended a short in-service course in information technology.
* Third, we will equip teachers and children to respond to the technology of the future. Technology is as important to education as the invention of printing. Tony Blair and I have opened discussions with the computer industry and education authorities to achieve our goal of giving every child access to a laptop computer and every teacher the facility to ensure that they are used sensibly.
* Fourth, we will forge new links between teaching and industry. We will encourage mature students to enter teaching - building on the excellent courses run by the Open University - with an emphasis on those who have been in industry, commerce, finance and the media. We will support those who have taken early retirement from industry and wish to give a further 10 years of their life to teaching. We will explore part-time training - "doing the knowledge" - to enable an easy transfer from business and public service into teaching. We will also consider offering a sabbatical period for study leave, or a placement in higher education or industry to reward teachers who have spent years in the classroom and wish to refresh their knowledge or skills.
* Fifth, we will introduce a new grade of advanced skills teacher - a promotion for those who wish to develop their expertise in the classroom rather than on the managerial ladder.
Teachers will also have the chance to get an accredited diploma - developing scholarship as well as knowledge of new technology and techniques - with teaching available through a combination of distance learning and a local network of teachers' centres. A national teachers' centre will act as a focal point for the development of programmes on a virtual network, linking teachers' centres around the country and enabling teachers to study at home. Linked with the University for Industry, continuing learning will be made available to every teacher.
* Sixth, we will bring in a new fast track for those who wish to become heads of department, deputies or heads - enabling them to obtain training and management development for the job. We will also introduce a management and leadership qualification for headteachers, giving an easier and clearer route to headship.
* Seventh, we will review the funding criteria under local management of schools to take account of long-standing, highly-graded teachers. The current system makes it difficult for schools to take on and retain experienced teachers.
We are also examining how we can develop an entitlement for every child in the country below which funding will not fall. Through our public-private partnership, we will invest in the repair and renewal of our schools, providing an environment fit to teach in.
* Eighth, we will improve discipline in schools. We will work with all the teacher unions to support discipline in the classroom. Where a child is excluded, we will insist on a clear focus on reintegration. To reduce the spiralling number of permanent exclusions, we will give heads and governors a new power to second children to pupil referral units for one term. This will allow behavioural problems to be addressed in an out-of-school setting, and a fuller assessment to be made of the child's needs.
* Ninth, we will introduce a General Teaching Council, to bring a new status to teaching, to promote teaching as a career and to establish a professional code. All qualified teachers, as is the case with doctors, will be placed on a register maintained by the GTC, which would also have the power to recommend striking off teachers who had breached the code. The GTC will also improve the standards of teacher training and in-service programmes, work with the teachers' centre and advise government on further steps to enhance the esteem of the profession.
We will also boost other existing measures which raise professional competence. One such is appraisal - which has a positive part to play in the dissemination of good practice. We will reinforce the appraisal system by linking it to LEA support services and consider reintroducing appraisal co-ordinators eliminated because of cutbacks in Grants for Education Support and Training.
* And tenth, we will act to root out bad teaching. Many teachers do an excellent job, but inevitably there are some who are underperforming and so jeopardising their pupils' education. We will streamline and reform the lengthy and bureaucratic procedure to tackle this problem.
We will use the inspection process to identify teachers who are underperforming to enable the headteacher to take appropriate action but only through a fair and equitable inspection process for all schools, which provides support and advice at local level and not merely an arms'-lengthcritique.
All of these measures will balance pressure and support, autonomy and accountability. We will make high demands of those in teaching but also equip them with the tools to do the job.
Teachers are at the centre of the new learning society we are creating for a new millennium. If we are to face the challenges together we must help one another to reach the ambitious targets on which the teaching profession will be judged.
If we are to give our young people the skills they need and the support they require to cope with the high-tech global economy of the 21st century, then we must also give those who teach them the capacity to cope with those same changes in the world of tomorrow.
David Blunkett MP is Labour spokesman on education and employment