The future of our country depends upon our schools, and that is why education remains Labour's number one priority.
Schools have come a long way since 1997. Today, we have 28,500 more teachers, 105,000 more support staff, new schools and improving standards at all levels. Starting salaries for teachers are up pound;4,698, those at the top of the main scale earn pound;9,873 more and heads' pay has risen considerably. London teachers have benefited from increases in the London allowance. Some would say these increases are an example of Labour's waste of public money. I believe it is money well spent.
These changes have not happened by accident, but because we have a Labour government which values education and teachers. We are committed to a creative curriculum. Our primary strategy marked a real change and was welcomed by teachers. In secondaries, we are opening flexible pathways for youngsters via a range of vocational and academic courses, and we have introduced value-added tables - again welcomed by parents and teachers.
With Labour, education spending will rise to pound;5,500 per pupil by 2007-8 - more than double the figure in 1997. Our investment will continue to make a difference. Investment in buildings, technology and computers for primaries and secondaries, which was just pound;100 per year per pupil in 1997, was Pounds 650 last year and will rise to at least pound;1,000 per pupil per year by 2010. We will continue to invest in raising the status of teaching: there is no greater responsibility than teaching the next generation. Teaching is a profession and teachers should be treated as professionals, so we will reduce bureaucracy and ensure that workforce reforms take place.
Poor behaviour is a real issue. We have nearly doubled the number of places in pupil-referral units, and now local education authorities will be expected to devolve funds and responsibility to networks of schools. This will enable schools to create new provision so that headteachers can take pupils out of the classroom to tackle bad behaviour and leave other pupils'
education undisrupted. Pupils who behave badly must know the consequences, and parents should support schools in enforcing good behaviour.
The choice at the next election is between a Labour government that will continue to invest in education or a Conservative government committed to cutting up to pound;2 billion from state schools to subsidise private education, and taking pound;1bn from local authorities.
The Tories would also introduce selection for pupils at five. Their policies were even dismissed by Margaret Thatcher as too extreme. I am proud of our achievements, but there is still much to do. With your backing we will provide the resources and support that schools need to ensure every child gets the best possible start in life.
Ruth Kelly is Secretary of State for Education and Skills