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Shephard pledges period of stability

The Government wants a period of stability and consolidation in schools, Gillian Shephard, the Education Secretary, told the Commons Select Committee on Education this week.

Her priority, she said, was to see the Government's reforms take root. It was also hoped there would be no need for more legislation in the next Parliamentary session, details of which will be unveiled later this month.

Mrs Shephard's comments underline her announcement last month that changes to the national curriculum due to take effect next September would usher in five years of stability in schools.

However, the Department for Education was overseeing initiatives on increasing provision for four-year-olds, introducing new vocational qualifications, and also a review of higher education. It was also important to introduce vocational courses for 15-year-olds, but that had to be done within the context of improving the position of GNVQs.

Committee members pressed her on the Government's plans to expand educational provision for four-year-olds. Mrs Shephard repeated her remarks from the previous day in the House of Commons that there would be new money to fund new places.

However, she said there was no detail available of the kind of provision that would be made. She refused to say whether the Government intended to expand the number of four-year-olds in primary classes rather than nurseries.

"The Office for Standards in Education is clear that in the right circumstances there isn't a problem with expanding primary school classes. I can't give any answer yet about what will emerge from our review," she said.

Questioned about the Section 11 grants (designed to provide language assistance in schools where there is a large proportion of ethnic minority pupils) that have been merged into the Single Regeneration Budget, Mrs Shephard promised a new in-service grant to assist bilingual pupils.

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