Labour's Ruskin pledges

20th December 1996 at 00:00
This is an edited extract from Tony Blair's Ruskin College speech:

"I believe there is the chance to forge a new consensus on education policy. It will be practical not ideological. And it will put behind us the political and ideological debates that have dominated the last 30 years..

At the end of five years, I am clear what I would like to see. No five, six or seven-year-old in a class of more than 30, and every child with access to the best of new technology. Progress towards our target of every primarychild learning to read well, with special help for those who fall behind. Every 17 or 18-year-old studying for a qualification. Higher education finance put on a sound and equitable footing. All teachers constantly updating their skills.

Every school, college or university hooked up to the superhighway. Every one of us seeking opportunities to learn . . .

Unless children master the basics, they will struggle. That is why we have pledged to make improved literacy our first target, with the aim of every child leaving primary school with a reading age to match their chronological age.

Smaller classes in infants' schools make a difference to pupil performance - so we have pledged to phase out the Assisted Places Scheme to pay for a cut in all such classes to 30 or less.

Children have different abilities in different subjects. So we insist that the education structure responds to that diversity, promoting different levels and types of achievement within a school, without falling into the trap, of re-creating selection between schools . . .

Zero tolerance of school underperformance and still more urgently school failure requires that we use every tool at our disposal: * all struggling schools should be identified by local education authorities, and suitable improvement plans developed with targets for improvement;

* clear performance criteria from exam results to truancy should be set with year on year targets for improvement;

* advice from expert inspectors, perhaps including practising heads, should provide struggling schools with intensive support;

* there should be new rules for the appointment of headteachers, including national standards for admission to a national register of people qualified to be heads;

* as we proposed at our party conference, there should be intensive literacy classes in the summer holidays for children who need them;

* new governors with experience of school improvement should be appointed to struggling schools;

* and where efforts at improvement consistently fail, then the LEA should be able to close the school and order a "fresh start" on the same site, with new leadership and new teachers dedicated to rebuilding the school. Zero tolerance of failure demands pressure as well as support . . .

David Blunkett and I have not shied away from criticising the small minority of incompetent teachers. We will continue to do so when necessary, not least because it is in the interests of the overwhelming majority of teachers and schools who are working hard and often successfully in sometimes extremely difficult circumstances.

We will, for the benefit of both other teachers and above all pupils, ensure that poor teachers are removed from teaching more quickly."

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