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Phonics to be official line

Gillian Shephard attempted this week to appease right-wingers in the Conservative Party by announcing an overhaul of teacher training and moves to greater selection in schools.

The Government is to insist that primary schools focus on phonics in the teaching of reading and number work in maths and may prescribe the amount of time spent teaching the class as a whole.

Another initiative to please the Right will be the confirmation of the doubling in size of the Assisted Places Scheme, which Labour intends to abolish. There will be an additional 4,000 entry places this September and 60 schools joining the scheme. In all, 34,000 extra places will be phased in over time.

In a high-risk strategy, Mrs Shephard appeared to be reasserting her authority after a whispering campaign by announcing details of the schools White Paper before it had been discussed by Cabinet.

Other plans included measures to encourage more schools to become grammars and give schools freedom to select more pupils by ability.

The stress on the Government's plans to raise standards in schools is intended as a counter to Labour leader Tony Blair's advocacy of setting in comprehensives and education spokesman David Blunkett's promise of a literacy campaign under a future Labour government.

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