Labour's partnership for change

11th July 1997 at 01:00
'Targets, targets, targets' appears to be the Government's new mantra. In a three-page report The TES examines David Blunkett's grand plan which was unveiled earlier this week.

Foreword to Excellence in Schools by the Secretary of State

``This, the first White Paper of the new Government, is as much about equipping the people of this country for the challenge of the future as it is about the Government's core commitment to equality of opportunity and high standards for all.

Partnership for change means commitment from everyone: from the family and the wider community; from those working in the education service; and from those who support it, often voluntarily. Valuing our teachers and celebrating success go hand in hand with raising expectations and then acting to fulfil them.

Everyone has a part to play. Children begin to learn about the world from the moment they are born. Families are the first teachers, helped by health visitors and others. At school, the caretaker and the school dinner lady, the school secretary and the classroom assistant are all part of the team.

In seeking the widest possible consultation through the summer and into the autumn, acting on that consultation and legislating where necessary to achieve our objectives, we wish to continue the process of creating a new culture in this country. We want to change attitudes towards education and foster a realisation that education matters to everyone.

Our policy principles * Education will be at the heart of government.

* Policies will be designed to benefit the many, not just the few.

* Standards matter more than structures.

* Intervention will be in inverse proportion to success.

* There will be zero tolerance of under-performance.

* Government will work in partnership with all those committed to raising standards.

Our policy focus There is no instant or single solution, but the standard of teaching in schools is of critical importance.

* Every child should get the basics of literacy and numeracy right early on through good teaching in early years education and primary schools, supported by smaller classes.

* All schools must take responsibility for raising their own standards using proven best practice.

* We must modernise comprehensive secondary education for the new century - recognising that different children move at different speeds.

* We must improve the quality of teaching through a new deal for teachers.

* Parents and local communities should be fully and effectively involved.

A sound beginning We expect both the national campaign to improve literacy and also the general drive to raise standards in schools to make substantial contributions to achieving the literacy targets.

* Each school will be advised to devote a structured hour a day to literacy for all pupils from September 1998.

* All schools will receive training and development in preparation.

* The project will be managed by the standards and effectiveness unit of the Department for Education and Employment, working with a national team of advisers.

* The national advisers will train local literacy consultants.

* The literacy consultants will train all the primary schools in their areas.

* Training will be supplemented by each school devoting an initial three training days in preparation.

Careful planning will be essential to ensure that individual schools are not required to implement excessive change in any one year. That said, the numeracy programme must not lag far behind that of literacy if the targets are to be achieved.

Standards and accountability From September 1998, each school will be required to have challenging targets for improvement.

School targets should be based on: * benchmark information on the performance of similar schools, at national and local level; * information on the rate of progress needed to achieve national targets; * the most recent inspection advice.

The main responsibility for raising standards lies with the schools themselves. But they will be more effective in doing so if they work in active partnership with local education authorities, the Office for Standards in Education and the DFEE.

The local education authority's role is to help schools set and meet their targets. It should challenge schools to raise standards continuously and to apply pressure where they do not. That role is not one of control. Those days are gone.

Each LEA must prepare an educational development plan, setting out how it intends to promote school improvement and including the performance targets set by its schools in agreement with the LEA.

Modernising the comprehensive principle A modern education service must be capable of stretching the most able while providing support for those who need it most.

In particular, we want to see more examples of: * target-grouping, where pupils are grouped by ability for part of the week; * fast-tracking, where pupils are encouraged to learn and take qualifications ahead of their age cohort; * the systematic teaching of thinking skills.

Teaching: high status, high standards Teachers and heads are at the heart of our drive to raise standards. Good teachers have a right to our support and recognition for what they do well.

A voice for teachers Teachers' professional standing should be underlined by the establishment of the General Teaching Council. As well as representing the views of teachers at national level, the membership will also reflect the interests of parents, employers and higher education in contributing to the national debate on standards. A GTC will help restore morale. There is a case for a GTC to oversee entry to the profession and barring from the profession as well as defining standards of professional behaviour.

Helping pupils achieve By 2002 there will be: * more family learning schemes; * a home-school contract in all schools; * greater representation of parents on governing bodies and parent representatives on LEAs; * better support in schools for pupils with behaviour problems, less need to exclude pupils from school, a better education for those who are out of school; * no children who miss out on their GCSEs by leaving school early; * guidelines for homework; * better school-business links.

A new partnership The focus of debate in recent years has been too much on school structure, too little on standards.

By 2002 there will be a new framework of foundation, community and aided schools, allowing all good schools to flourish and keeping in place whatever is already working well, while giving better support for those schools that need to improve.

Schools should be able to choose which status will best suit their character and aspirations. We assume that the great majority of schools will wish to choose a category which is as close as possible to their existing status.

School admissions We want as many parents as possible to be able to send their children to their preferred school. Where a school is oversubscribed, there must be clear and fair criteria for judging applications. Church schools may reasonably carry out interviews to assess religious commitment. Places should not otherwise be offered on the basis of a interview with the pupil or parent. We shall rule out for the future partial selection by academic ability. ''

Consultation - how to respond. Written or taped comments can be sent to Stuart Millar, DFEE, Excellence in Schools, Room 4.63 Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BT or by fax 0171 925 6425. Comments can be e-mailed to:

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