Labour's tough line on schools

26th September 2008 at 01:00
Ed Balls pledges fairer pay for support staff and enforcement of deal cutting teachers' workload

Investment in schools and young people was high on the agenda at the Labour Party conference in Manchester this week as Gordon Brown made the speech of his life to save his political skin.

All eyes were on the Prime Minister as he spoke, making a commitment to end child poverty in England by 2020, the same target as Wales, and help poorer families in England connect to the internet with a Pounds 300 million windfall.

There was wide support from Welsh Labour as Mr Brown contended Britain was not yet broken.

He had been given a boost from Paul Murphy, the Welsh Secretary, earlier this week. Praising Mr Brown's premiership, he told delegates that public investment and teacher numbers were at all time high in Wales's schools as a result of Government investment.

But Mr Brown enraged teaching unions by piling pressure on hundreds of schools in England where fewer than 30 per cent of pupils achieve five A*- C grade GCSEs including English and maths.

The schools are part of England's recently announced National Challenge school improvement scheme. Closure is supposed to be the last resort, but Mr Brown suggested in his speech that closures and sacking the heads was the only option.

"Our pledge today is that any parents whose local state school falls below the expected standard will have the right to see that school transformed under wholly new leadership, or closed and new school places provided," he said.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said later: "The threat against the leaders of these schools will discourage good teachers from applying for these posts.

But the education policies that directly affect Wales - relating to pay and conditions - came from Ed Balls, England's Children, Schools and Families Secretary. He promised fairer pay for support staff and the introduction of an independent, statutory chair to recognise and strengthen their position in schools.

He also announced new laws to clamp down on schools flouting the workforce agreement, an agreed pact cutting teachers' duties and the hours they cover colleagues. TES Cymru revealed last month that schools refusing to honour the deal, aimed at reducing teacher workload, could lose control of their budgets and have their governing bodies replaced.

Welsh Labour also used the conference as a platform to announce new commitments, including extra support to find work for teenagers who drop out of school and more help for struggling rural communities, including their schools.

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