The 'new age of achievement'

4th October 1996 at 01:00
Extracts from the Labour leader Tony Blair's speech to conference on Tuesday. Ask me my three main priorities for Government, and I tell you: education, education and education. The first wonder of the world is the mind of a child.

I sometimes sit reading a paper or watching TV, and look up to see my children at a computer, and marvel at what they can do; using that computer as easily as we read a book.

We are 35th in the world league of education standards - 35th. They say give me the boy at seven and I'll give you the man at 70. Well give me the education system that's 35th in the world today and I'll give you the economy that's 35th tomorrow. At every level we need radical improvement and reform. A teaching profession trained and able to stand alongside the best in the world and valued as such. No to vouchers . . .Yes to nursery places.

David Blunkett will set out how to ensure that every primary school child leaves school able to read to adequate standard. We want to establish three-week intensive literacy summer schools with the aim of ensuring that every 11-year-old is up to standard in reading.

The Tories choose to spend more than Pounds 100 million on the Assisted Places Scheme to subsidise a small number of children at private school. That scheme will be phased out. That money will be used to make sure that every five, six and seven-year-old is in a class of 30 or under.

No return to the 11-plus. The comprehensive system will stay, modernised for today's world, taking account of children's different abilities. Continual assessment. Targets set. Instant action where they're not met.

There should be zero tolerance of failure in Britain's schools. I want a state education system in Britain so good, so attractive, that the parents choose to put behind us the educational apartheid of the past, private and state.

Nothing would do more to break down the class divides that have no place in a modern country in the 21st century.

The Age of Achievement will be built on new technology. Last year I announced an agreement with BT to cable up schools, colleges, universities and libraries to the information superhighway for free. To their credit, the cable companies followed suit. That was a historic beginning. But only the beginning. A wire on its own is not enough. Today we go further.

The cable industry and BT have now given us a commitment to keep costs to our schools for access to the Internet and superhighway as low and predictable as possible. And they have given a commitment to achieve real reduction in prices for those schools. We have agreed to work with them to put this into practice. So we have the wires. We've got the low-cost connections. Now you need more hardware, the computers themselves.

In January we appointed Dennis Stevenson, a leading businessman, to chair a commission of independent experts to examine how we get the hardware, and the training for teachers to use it. His final report to be published later this year, will lay down the third building block, to show how, in time, no child will be without access to a computer and no school unable to use them properly. The cables for free. The connections at low cost. Plans for computers.

What matters in the end though, is the educational material that comes down these cables, into those computers and into the mind of the child. Just as schools have to buy books, they will pay for the various courses and services on offer. But we will make sure the quality is high.

Competition will ensure the prices are low. And in Government we will be inviting bids for a franchise to provide the specialised education network.

Our aim is for every school to have access to the superhighway, the computers to deliver it and the education programmes to go on it. With the University for Industry for adult skills, this adds up to a national grid for learning for Britain. Britain the skill superpower of the world.

Achievement and aspiration fulfilled. For all our people.

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