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Preview of the year - 1999 and all that

Diane Spencer looks ahead to a busy 12 months in schools for the year 1999

Diane Spencer looks ahead to a busy 12 months in schools for the year 1999

SCHOOLS. Diane Spencer looks ahead to a busy 12 months for schools

"SO YOU will reap what you have sown, dear. And what you reap will make you weep" - so goes the old jazz song. But will it be true for New Labour?

Countless seeds were well and truly planted last year, not least a major review of the curriculum. Confusingly, the Government wants to slim it down and make it more flexible - yet is insisting on extras, such as the literacy and numeracy hours and citizenship.

Class sizes should be reduced to 30 by next September in Wales (a year later in England); a new framework of community, foundation and voluntary schools will come into operation, with the grant-maintained funding quango dissolved at the end of March.

New arrangements for allocating school places will come into force in April. With admissions appeals already running at record levels this could well provoke even more parental discontent. There may be trouble at the grammar schools too, where selection will end if there's a majority ballot vote in favour. Also on the agenda is a revamp in the local funding of schools system, with councils expected to delegate an extra pound;1 billion for repairs, maintenance and some staff costs.

Even the independent sector faces a new inspection system, with the Office for Standards in Education concentrating on the mavericks, leaving the great and good to self-inspect.

Look out for the scholarly James Sabben-Clare, head of Winchester, who takes over as chairman of the Headmasters' Conference, and the robust Rosanne Musgrave, head of London's Blackheath high, the next president of the Girls' Schools' Association.

As usual, the new year kicks off with the Association for Science Education conference in Reading (see People, page 12) closely followed by the North of England Conference, this time in Sunderland, where education secretaries usually promote new policies. The two Davids - Blunkett and Willetts - will have their say.

On the union front, most of the leaders are up for re-election but, as things stand, only Doug McAvoy of the National Union of Teachers is actually being challenged - by left-winger and former president Christine Blower.

January should see the answers to the puzzling details of the Green Paper: fast-track teachers, expansion of classroom assistants, and who will choose those to cross the proposed pay threshold. The pay award is also due in February, but don't hold your breath for an inflation-busting figure.

Special needs teachers should expect to be consulted on a variety of reforms, including a revised code of practice, the future for educational psychologists, and speech and language therapy services.

By the summer, we should see whether the Teacher Training Agency's "sticking plaster" measures to stem the recruitment crisis in secondary teachers have had any effect.

Local authorities' development plans for raising standards and improving school performance should be in place by April. There is also a new round of action zone bidding due, with school standards minister Estelle Morris pressing for more radical efforts.

The national childcare strategy will expand places to three-year-olds and a Sure Start programme will be launched for deprived toddlers and their families. Primary schools must brace themselves for the arrival of the National Numeracy Strategy in September - sister to the literacy strategy.

The Welsh, whose assembly comes into being in May, will publish their own versions of the Green Paper and the numeracy strategy which, they insist, will be more teacher-friendly than the English equivalents.

What of those odd ministerial bedfellows, sports and the arts? The ebullient Tony Banks, the Sports Minister, will publish a sports strategy early in the year: to make sure we win the next Ashes series and a few more medals in the next Olympics.

On the arts front, Culture Secretary Chris Smith's aims to make galleries and museums free to everyone. Ken Robinson, professor of arts education at Warwick University, will produce his report on creative and cultural education, due last autumn.

And what does the year ahead hold for the chief inspector? His empire, OFSTED, is under scrutiny by the education select committee with Chris Woodhead himself due to appear before MPs in February.

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