Labour pushed its government-in-waiting image this week with a call to local education authorities not to wait for a general election before putting the party's policies into action.
In a speech to local council leaders which indicated they would have an enhanced role under Labour, David Blunkett, shadow education secretary, urged them to act as pilots of excellence. They should lead a crusade on standards, take action to improve efficiency and on developing partnerships to boost nursery expansion.
"It is now time to look to the future - a future with Labour in government, " he told the Council for Local Education Authorities, in Solihull this week. "I urge you to start preparing for that future."
Mr Blunkett warned Labour councillors that the Government would seek to blame them for its own mistakes. But he said: "Labour in local government is already making a difference. Think how much more of a difference could be made with central and local government pulling in the same direction."
Mr Blunkett said 40 councils were now piloting Labour's programme to raise standards in schools. And he said local authorities - the vast majority of which are Labour or run by Labour-Liberal coalitions - were already working to cut class size, increase parental involvement in schools, reduce spending on central administration and create thousands of nursery places.
"We want the best authorities to act as benchmarks for the rest," said Mr Blunkett. "I urge those who are not already doing so to share your experience with each other and with the public nationally, so that when a new government is elected we are equipped with both the policy and the examples of good practice to lever up standards in all our schools."
He highlighted links between Sheffield and Birmingham to share good practice and a system of benchmarking to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of schools in Croydon.
Birmingham came in for particular praise, with its baseline assessment for reception class children, target-setting and idea for making the millennium a target to lift morale.
Along with Coventry, Merton, Sheffield and Manchester, Birmingham also won acclaim for cutting spending on central administration, while Northamptonshire, Hertfordshire, Croydon and Hillingdon won plaudits for their work on nurseries.
Target-setting in Nottingham, home-school links in Humberside, a system of staffing and activity-led funding in Norfolk and a project to reduce class size in infant schools in Staffordshire were promoted as well."Birmingham's initiative has set a climate of continuous self-improvement in all its schools," said Mr Blunkett.
Tim Brighouse,Platform, page 17