Labour manifesto: Everything in hand except cash

4th April 1997 at 01:00
The Labour party has signalled a hands-on approach to standards and what goes on in the classroom by spelling out specific teaching methods in its election manifesto.

It says: "We will encourage the use of the most effective teaching methods, including phonics for reading and whole-class interactive teaching for maths."

The manifesto promotes a tough stance on standards, with "speedy, but fair, procedures to remove teachers who cannot do the job"; the closure of failing schools which will be re-opened in "fresh-start" initiatives; and the suspension of powers of local education authorities that are deemed to be failing.

It sets out its New Labour credentials, saying: "We must modernise comprehensive schools. Children are not all of the same ability, nor do they learn at the same speed. That means 'setting' children in classes to maximise progress, for the benefit of higher-flyers and slow learners alike."

According to party sources, Tony Blair wants to promote a diversity of choice, so parents can have a real choice of quality education. The rhetoric is of a consumer-responsive education system, but one which also places the onus on parents. "A major objective is to promote a culture of responsibility for learning within the family, through contracts between all schools and parents, defining the responsibilities for each."

Discipline was a major issue, as ever, at the teacher union conferences this Easter with the National Union of Teachers and National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers in disagreement over the way to deal with disruptive pupils.

The Labour party wants all schools to have a discipline policy and the manifesto promises new-style pupil referral units, or "sin bins", to educate excluded pupils.

"We support the greatest possible integration into mainstream education of pupils with special educational needs, while recognising that specialist facilities are essential to meet particular needs," it says.

The manifesto does not promise any extra resources for special educational needs, which will be a disappointment to schools who say they are unable to meet the present SEN code through lack of funding.

The new idea in the document is the setting-up of "education action zones". This will involve recruiting the best teachers and heads to under-achieving schools and supporting voluntary mentoring schemes to provide one-to-one support for disadvantaged pupils.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, welcomed many of the ideas contained in the manifesto, but he is concerned about funding.

He said: "The state education system has suffered 18 years of neglect and while I do not expect a Labour government to be able to reverse it immediately, extra funding is needed in the short term if the increase in standards required by the Labour party and my union are to be achieved." He was sceptical that schools with crumbling buildings will be able to remove the buckets catching the drips in their classrooms if they are to rely on Labour's plan for publicprivate partnerships to improve conditions. He also believes that many of the manifesto commitments, for example qualifications for heads and in-service training for teachers in numeracy and literacy, will not be possible unless extra funding is found.

Labour says it is committed to reversing the #163;3 billion Tory under-fund ing of the education service, but can only promise to make more money available when it can cut the costs on welfare spending.

One of Tony Blair's major pledges is to reduce class sizes, using money from the Assisted Places Scheme which subsidises some pupils at private schools. He has promised that children aged five to seven will not have to be in classes of more than 30. Labour has also guaranteed nursery places for four-year-olds and will set targets for provision for three-year-olds.

Frances Rafferty

Manifesto promises

* Class sizes reduced to 30 and under for five, six and seven-year-olds.

* Literacy and numeracy taskforces to be set up. Concentration on the three Rs and more training for teachers in basic numeracy and literacy.

* Grammar schools will not be abolished. Local parents will decide on their admission policies.

* Failing schools will be closed and be reopened under a "fresh start". Successful schools will take over under-performing ones in the same area.

* Nursery vouchers will be scrapped. All four-year-olds guaranteed a place. LEAs will tender to pilot early excellence centres.

* All schools to be wired up to the Internet.

* Home-school contracts and national homework guidelines.

* General Teaching Council to be established. New "super teacher" grade and mandatory qualification for heads.

* Broader A-levels and upgraded vocational qualifications.

* Student grants to be repaid by graduates on an income-related basis.

* Individual Learning Accounts for training.

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