Clarke invokes the spirit of '45

1st October 2004 at 01:00
Speech short on surprises but long on vision, pledges legacy comparable to creation of NHS, Michael Shaw and Jon Slater report from Brighton.

Open all-hours schools, a huge expansion of childcare, reform of the curriculum for 14 to 19-year-olds and the creation of 200 academies are at the heart of of Labour's education plans for a third term, Charles Clarke said this week.

There were no surprises, gimmicks or big new ideas at the party's annual conference in Brighton, probably the last before the next election. The programme had been laid out in the Government's five-year education plan earlier this year.

However, the pledge to provide affordable childcare for all under-fives was described by the Education Secretary as being as bold and ambitious as the creation of the National Health Service by the 1945 Attlee government.

The party also promised to be "tough on badly-behaved children and the causes of badly-behaved children". Councils will be encouraged to delegate funds to heads so that, for example, foundation schools will be able to set up their own on-site pupil-referral units.

Schools will be expected to be a "hub of the community" open from 8am to at least 6pm providing childcare, holiday and after-school clubs. While they will be able to charge for these services, heads will not be able fund them via the school's main budget.

However, ministers said that it would be up to heads and governors to decide how "extended" the school becomes.

Middle Street primary in Brighton, which Mr Clarke visited, has a breakfast club and is one of the first extended schools.

Gina Hutchins, headteacher, said: "It strengthens the partnership between home and school. Attendance has improved dramatically in the past couple of years."

In his speech, Mr Blair said: "Unless we offer more than the standard comprehensive, parents will desert our state schools and the whole of society would suffer."

Mr Clarke said he felt that the focus of Labour's first two terms in education had been about "repair" and that the third term would be about transformation.

But his plans should not worry teachers who feel a rash of initiatives would be as welcome as a cold in the head. Schools minister David Miliband, said he was proud that he had not introduced any since joining the Department for Education and Skills.

Mr Miliband said although Labour's programme for the next government term was not radically new,it was a mistake to "fall victim to the tyranny of novelty".

The most controversial part of the programme is the creation of 200 academies, independent state schools with private sponsors, in areas of disadvantage.

Peter Lampl, the entrepreneur founder of the Sutton Trust, which helps improve the education of disadvantaged pupils said at a fringe meeting that he was horrified that the Government had spent pound;25 million building some academies and a further pound;30m buying their land.

"A few have started up with mixed results and now the Government wants to create 200 of them... No private business would manage things like that," he said.

Mr Clarke rejected calls from delegates to abolish Britain's remaining grammar schools. He indicated that the Government was optimistic it would reduce selection.

How it will do so should become clearer in its response to the House of Commons select committee report on admissions. Mr Clarke agreed the 11-plus was the "wrong way" to select pupils.

Labour's third term

* All schools to offer extended opening and activities such as breakfast clubs.

* All secondaries to be refurbished in the next 10 to 15 years with modern sports facilities.

* 200 academies to be created and all other secondary schools to get specialist status.

* New powers for headteachers to tackle disruptive behaviour.

* Affordable childcare for all parents and a SureStart children's centre in every community.

* 180,000 14 to 16-year-olds studying vocational GCSEs by 200708.

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