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Pledged to bring in highest standards

Labour and the Liberal Democrats finally agreed their partnership deal on Wednesday after nearly two weeks of talks. Extracts from the schools and lifelong learning plans are detailed below

"Our goal is for every school in Scotland to be an excellent school" the agreement states. "We will modernise comprehensive education to secure the highest standards for every child."

These "high-level commitments" include:

* The largest ever school building programme in Scotland's history, renewing 200 more schools by 2006, rising to 300 by 2009. These schools should be available to the whole community and include high-quality facilities for drama, music, sport, IT and, in secondary schools, science laboratories.

* Every school to be an integrated community school by 2007.

* Increase in teacher numbers to 53,000 by 2007 and increase in support staff, mostly in secondary schools.

* Additional teachers to be tar-geted on reducing class sizes to a maximum of 20 in S1 and S2 for maths and English, and on a new limit of 25 in P1; more specialists will work across the secondary-primary boundary.

* Reform of the curriculum to increase pupil choice, simplifying it and making it more stimulating.

* "More time for learning" by simplifying and reducing assessment, ending the current system of national tests for five to 14-year-olds, promoting assessment methods that support learning and teaching while measuring improvement in overall attainment through broad surveys rather than relying on the national tests.

* Improving the transition between nursery and primary and primary and secondary education so that the system fits the needs of the children.

* Introducing more flexibility in the curriculum for three to six-year-olds aimed at improving pupils' confidence and attainment by changing the ethos of P1, freeing up the curriculum, introducing less formal teaching methods and enabling early professional intervention.

* Give pupils access to summer schools and camps, and ensure all schools have access to home-link workers.

* Enabling 14 to 16-year-olds to develop vocational skills and improve their employment prospects by allowing them to undertake courses in further education colleges as part of the school-based curriculum.

The agreement outlines what are planned to be the features of "a modern curriculum" to help pupils live "a healthy, productive and happy life in the modern world". These are:

* Encouraging creativity with 12 months' free music tuition by P6.

* Guaranteeing the opportunity to learn a modern European language, starting in primary school.

* Making sure that every pupil has the opportunity to benefit from enterprise in education, expanding the number of schools involved from 10 per cent to 100 per cent.

* Developing curriculum mate-rials to promote environmental awareness.

* Emphasising citizenship, community involvement and environmental education throughout the school years.

* Encouraging schools in the secondary sector to include parenting skills.

* Continuing to invest in Gaelic-medium education, including the provision of more teacher training places.

The coalition hopes to "maximise schools' performance" by:

* Using technology to link schools to access staff and share resources.

* Increasing devolved decision-making in the use of school budgets, issuing guidance on how to bring the proportion of the budget under the control of the headteacher up to a minimum of 80 per cent and move it towards 90 per cent.

* Supporting a place for the headteacher associations on the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers.

* Promoting improved assessment of individual schools' progress as a better measure than national league tables.

* Tackling underperformance through inspection, professional support and development, but where this does not lead to improvements "we will extend ministerial powers to intervene, as a last resort and on the recommendations of the inspectorate, to ensure that the action identified by the inspectorate as necessary is taken by the local authority".

Equality, inclusion and diversity will involve plans to:

* Continue to include pupils in mainstream schools where this is in their best interest, "but also recognising that some young people will require specialist provision, including access to specialist schools which may require co-operation across education authority boundaries".

* End the current bureaucratic hurdles faced by children with additional support for learning needs, including a mediation and tribunal service and a greater say for parents and carers in the education and support provision for their child.

* Have a national strategy for special educational needs.

* Encourage diversity and permit local authorities to fund specialist schools.

* Ensure gifted children have the opportunity to fulfil their talents, with appropriate access to national initiatives to give support in drama, music, sport or academic pursuits.

Colleges, universities and lifelong learning plans include:

* A higher threshold for repaying student loans, which currently start after earnings of pound;10,000.

* More generous student bur-saries but "no support" for top-up tuition fees

* An increase in the higher and further education budget by 16.8 per cent by 2006.

* A new lifelong learning forum.

* The right of college and university students to refer complaints about "institutional mechanisms" to the ombudsman.

* "Greater transparency" in the appointment of college and university principals.


* Free nursery places for every three and four-year-old, free fruit in P1 and P2, closer working between schools and the NHS, support for breakfast clubs, improved nutritional standards for school meals, an end to advertising unhealthy food in schools and "actively discouraging" the availability of unhealthy food and drinks in schools.

* The wider "family agenda" features the introduction of maintenance allowances for all 16-19s from low income families, and strengthening home links by "improving the quality of information that parents receive about their children's progress at every stage".

* "Ensuring children are safe and do not threaten the safety of others" is the title of the section that pledges to tackle violence, bullying and disruption in schools, by making truancy action schemes a priority for all authorities.

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