Blair's pledge to sweat for schools

29th September 2000 at 01:00
The PM's perspiration drew much attention in Brighton on Tuesday, but teachers will also have noted the way he re-affirmed his passion for education.

IT was a Prime Minister seeking re-election who praised Britain's teachers as the best in the world, and who promised education would remain his priority if Labour wins the next general election.

Fresh from his humbling at the hands of the fuel protesters, Mr Blair told delegates that he was a listening premier who had already responded to public sentiment with massive investment in schools.

He promised that the share of the nation's wealth spent on education would increase if Labour won - but did not specify the proportion.

"Education, education, education. Then, now and in the future," he said. "We said we would invest in schools and hospitals. It is happening."

The focus of his second term would be transforming secondary schools. Literacy and numeracy schemes, catch-up lessons and new targets for 14 and 16-year-olds would extend the success in primary schools.

Mr Blair restated targets announced as part of July's spending review, tying increased investment to better results for 14 and 16-year-olds. But in keeping with the new emphasis on being a listening government, he said the targets would be subject to a full consultatio. When the targets were first announced there was no mention of any consultation.

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson told a seminar discussing Labour's manifesto pledges that the party needed to do for education what the Attlee government had done for health - provide a cradle-to-grave service.

Teachers' organisations welcomed the commitment to increase education spending but warned that little had been promised to tackle the teacher supply shortage.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the shortages could not be be filled by praise and exhortation: "Conditions for teachers have to change."

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, added: "A lot of the extra money the Government is putting into education needs to go into teachers' pay packets if the Prime Minister wants to recruit the best teachers in the world."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, expressed doubts over the way the extra money would be spent.

"In five years - by the end of the next Parliament - every computer in schools now will be obsolete," he said. "That's the extent of the investment that's required in computer equipment and is taken for granted in industry."

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