Better deals for standard bearers

12th July 1996 at 01:00
Extracts from Labour's document, New Labour: new life for Britain. Our proposals on education and skills are detailed and clear. Our aim is to guarantee nursery education for all three and four year-olds. We do not favour vouchers, since they are bureaucratic and a poor means of generating more quality nursery places. We will use the money to guarantee places for four- year-olds and start the expansion of provision for three-year-olds.

We have promised a radical improvement in primary school standards, earlier assessment of children and better basic teaching. We do not share the view that primary school standards are adequate. They aren't. Fifty per cent of children are failing to reach appropriate levels in numeracy and literacy tests at the age of 11. That is unacceptable.

For post-11 education, we reject a return to the 11-plus. We favour recognising the different abilities of children, and constructing a system to acknowledge them, but within comprehensive schooling. This is the commonsense approach. The future of remaining grammar schools is up to the parents affected. We will not close good schools.

All schools, including existing grant-maintained schools, will have power and budgets devolved to heads and governors. Indeed we favour greater devolution for schools - but within a local, accountable service that ensures fairness and partnership between all schools.

The key - especially since local management has been introduced - is not a battle over structures, but standards. We have proposed a range of measures to lift standards: smaller infant classes; the grouping of pupils by ability and attainment in primary and secondary schools; better testing and assessment with target-setting of improved results; improvements to school buildings through public-private partnerships; broader A-levels and improved vocational qualifications; a new role for LEAs and governors and value-added performance tables.

We favour fundamental reform of teacher and headteacher training, and new opportunities for the best teachers. The vast majority of teachers are dedicated and committed, but we need a quicker, though fair, process of removing the few teachers who really cannot do the job.

We believe in greater parental involvement in education, including a home-school contract between parents and schools. Teachers should have the support of parents in maintaining discipline and attendance. There will be improvements in how we deal with unruly or disruptive children.

In further and higher education, we have been honest enough to accept that we will not be able to expand higher and further education as we need to if we try to fund it entirely out of general taxation. South Korea now sends a higher percentage of its children to university than the UK. We cannot continue to fall behind. To fund the expansion, we must acknowledge graduates will have to make their contribution, when their earnings allow, to the maintenance costs of higher education. But unlike the present loans system it should be fair, competently administered, and the payback term should - where the student desires it or needs it - be longer. This is, in general, the approach of other countries and we have called upon the Dearing Committee to adopt it.

Many jobs are now computer-orientated. An adaptable workforce requires a quite different approach. A training system with a top-down approach, levies and rebates, all through government, is simply not appropriate for the majority of industries. So we have made critical changes.

The existing structure - training and enterprise councils, national vocational qualifications, Investors in People - can remain and be improved. But we must place the demand for skills in the hands of the individual. We have shown how public money spent on training could be invested in the form of Learn as You Earn accounts which individuals can then use to get the skills they want. This could be funded by, for example, switching resources within TEC budgets and supplemented by employers.

Second, the Government has been hopelessly slow to recognise the potential of new technology in transforming the availability of high-quality learning. People can now learn at home and at work through the new interactive information superhighway.

We have shown how - working with British Telecom and the cable companies - we can wire up schools, libraries, universities and hospitals to the superhighway. We will publish further proposals to put the benefits of computers at the fingertips of children.

Our University for Industry project makes all this possible for adult employees and the unemployed. This will bring government, industry, science and research establishments and universities together to create a new resource using new technology to enhance skills and education. In time, we expect it to be a major institution of adult learning.

This is the new Labour approach. It is based on partnership, on stakeholding, not an old-fashioned war between bosses and workers. It recognises the value of co-operation, as well as competition; but it is hard-headed, practical and geared to making us more successful in the global marketplace. It differs from the old Left, it differs from the new Right. It is a new agenda, and it is a full one.

Its objectives and values would strike a chord with Labour's founders. Its means are new. Ending youth and long-term unemployment must be a nationalpriority.

There is one further core economic objective: to tackle the tragic waste of long-term and youth unemployment. Long-term unemployment is higher than in Germany; youth unemployment almost double. It wastes talent, skills and money in rising welfare bills.

Labour will offer a new deal for a lost generation of young people. We will ensure that more young people can stay on in education. And we will give everyone under 25 opportunities to work and to gain skills and qualifications.

We want all young people to be offered part-time or full-time education after 16. Only 64 per cent of young people achieve NVQ level two by the age of 19. By the year 2000, our education and training system must ensure all young people are on the road to a qualification. We will replace youth training with our new Target 2000 programme of education and training.

We want every young person unemployed for more than six months to be in a job or in training. They will be offered the choice of four high-quality options, each involving day-release education or training leading to a qualification. The four options are:

* a job with a private-sector employer, who will be paid a Pounds 60-a-week rebate for six months;

* a job with a non-profit voluntary sector employer, paying a weekly wage, equivalent to benefit plus a fixed sum for six months;

* full-time study for young people to achieve educational qualifications on an approved course;

* a job on Labour's environment task force, as part of our proposed Citizens' Service.

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