Euro eyes trained on Blair's victory

16th May 1997 at 01:00
Eurofile. Labour's landslide victory has turned all European eyes onto Tony Blair, his tactics and policies. Central to Labour's triumphant campaign were the party's ideas for education; ideas which are certain to be scrutinised for the French general election later this month, the German elections next year and by parties across Europe.

My colleagues in the European Parliament, from parties right across the political spectrum, have been generous in their congratulations. Most MEPs and many other officials are welcoming Labour's victory, hoping and believing it will herald the beginning of more positive relationships between Britain and her neighbours. With their own election only days away, my copies of the Labour manifesto were in heavy demand from French Socialists. Like Labour, the French Left recognises the importance of sound education policies. A quick analysis of a few points with a German and a French colleague showed there is much common ground.

In addition to Labour's stated objectives of raising standards, reducing class sizes and providing better training for heads, the party recognises the desperate need to improve teacher morale and raise education's status in society.

Lionel Jospin, the French Socialist leader who nearly defeated Jacques Chirac in the 1995 presidential elections and is now the Socialist party's candidate for premier, is himself from the world of education. A former lecturer, Jospin was education minister during Michael Rocard's premiership and most French teachers and educationists remember fondly the Jospin legacy; the morale of the profession was raised and teachers felt valued in their communities. The new Education and Employment Secretary, David Blunkett, and his team must follow Jospin's example and make raising the morale of the nation's teachers a priority. A demoralised profession under-performs. A highly-skilled and well-motivated workforce is more likely to deliver high standards.

A pillar of Tony Blair's education manifesto involves tapping the potential of new technology in the classroom. The new premier promised this innovation in his speech to Labour's Blackpool conference last autumn. He spoke of the need to get all schools connected to the Internet.

For a precedent he need look no further than Germany. The German education ministry has forged a deal with Deutsche Telekom to link the country's secondaries to the Internet by the year 2000. Labour is making a similar agreement with British Telecom.

While European politicians rush to imitate what they feel Labour did right during the campaign, their British colleagues are also looking closely at what is happening abroad. European educators are increasingly recognising that there is invariably more that unites than divides us and that we can learn a great deal from each other.

If Labour can replicate the positive aspects of Europe's education systems, and our partners in turn benefit from British experiences, then there must be real optimism for the future of Europe's young people.

Robert Evans MEP is Labour's European education spokesperson

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