Not bad for a first attempt

1st June 2001 at 01:00
When you read the small print, New Labour has fulfilled most of its election promises on education. Jon Slater, Julie Henry, Warwick Mansell, Karen Thornton and Merlin John look at its school report

Credit where it's due. Labour has delivered on most of its key education promises made at the last election. Infant class sizes are down, spending is up and, most impressively of all, more 11-year-olds are reaching the expected standard in national tests in English, maths and science.

Of course there is a but. Labour could teach lawyers and used-car salesmen a thing or two about using small print. Despite many people's impression that the class size pledge would be delivered by the time of the election, it was in fact promised for 2002 - and will therefore be met.

Likewise, Labour got off the hook on its funding pledge (see below) despite the fact that spending in the first two years did not match their rhetoric.

If whoever wins on June 7 sticks to Labour's spending plans as closely as they did to the Tories', then schools will feel much better off in three years' time. But if all schools are to benefit equally, then the mess that is the funding system will need to be tackled.

The biggest problem of all has been teacher morale and workload which has culminated in the present retention and recruitment crisis. None of Labour's 21 promises made in 1997 mentioned the burden on teachers, so perhaps we should not be surprised about the present situation.

Recent comments by Education Secretary David Blunkett and Tony Blair hold out hope that the penny may finally have dropped and a second-term Labour Government may take teachers' concerns seriously. But as far as their first term goes, Labour in the main delivered what it promised.

1 A guaranteed nursery place for all four-year-olds From September 1998 parents were offered free nursery places for four-year-olds, consisting of five half-day sessions. Free places for all three-year-olds by 2004 is now the target.

Between April 1997 and December 2000, new childcare places for more than 625,000 children were created.

2 A cut in class sizes to 30 or under for all five, six and seven-year-olds The Government missed meeting the target in time for the election by 36,000 pupils. However, the proportion of pupils in infant classes over 30 has fallen from 20 per cent in 1997 to 2 per cent in 2001.

The pupil-adult ratio in primaries has fallen to 15.7 as more classroom assistants are used. More than a third of eight-to-11-year-olds are in classes of over 30.

3 Assessment of every child entering primary school Ministers are due to move the baseline assessment, carried out by schools within five weeks of a child starting reception class, to the end of the reception year.

Critics say this amount to testing for five-year-olds and will double the work of reception class teachers, who will still have to assess new pupils.

4 New targets for the under-11s to master the three Rs Key stage 2 rising test scores are Labour's proudest achievement. David Blunkett promised to resign if the 2002 targets are not met. By then, 80 per cent of pupils should have reached the expected level in English and 75 per cent in maths.

In 2000, 75 per cent reached level 4 in English, 72 per cent in maths and 85 per cent in science.

5 Tough new qualifications for headteachers The National Professional Qualification for Headship, introduced in 1997, was supposed to be mandatory by 2002 but that has been delayed because of the recruitment crisis. The National College for School Leadership took over the pound;100m headteacher training programme in April 2001. A new slimmed-down, one-year NPQH which started at the same time has attracted more applicants.

6 Reforms to teacher training and a quick and fair system for getting rid of bad teachers New standards for award of qualified teacher status and detailed curricula for teacher-training courses were introduced in September 1998. A few training institutions closed after bad inspection reports. Numeracy skills tests introduced last year for trainees.

Guidance introduced last September said that sacking bad teachers should take no more than two terms, and only four weeks if they've lost class control.

7 Associate teachers to bring specialist expertise to classrooms and new recognition for "super teachers" Teaching associates now equate to undergraduates undertaking work in schools - not visiting experts from business, commerce etc.

Advanced skills teachers were introduced in 1998 and paid up to pound;44,571. But the scheme was suspended last year because of the NUT legal challenge. The target of 5,000 ASTs by this September is unlikely to be met.

8 A General Teaching Council to raise standards of teaching The new General Teaching Councils in England and Wales will only start to regulate the profession this month. Apart from work on teachers' professional development, their biggest impact so far has been in turf wars with the unions and upsetting teachers in England unhappy about having to pay a fee.

9 Modernise comprehensives to suit the needs of children Labour has dramatically expanded the specialist schools programme begun by the Tories. There are now more than 500, three times the number in 1997. Further expansion is a big plank of this year's manifesto.

Critics claim that Labour is creating a two-tier system and that the programme does not work in rural areas where the larger distance between schools limits parents' choice 10 Broader A-levels and upgraded vocational qualifications Revamped A-levels were introduced last September. Sixth-formers were encouraged to take up to five subjects in the first year of A-level study, now called AS-level. Vocational A-levels, which are supposed to have "parity of esteem" with academic A-levels, have replaced advanced GNVQs. Vocational GCSEs will be available from September 2002.

11 Every school linked to the information superhighway Labour's promise to connect all schools and colleges to the Internet by 2002 is on course, but anecdotal evidence suggests that many new school networks are slow.

The pound;230 million New Opportunities Fund scheme to train all teachers for ICT has been attacked by the Office for Standards in Education - a rescue is urgently needed.

12 Publicprivate partnerships to improve the quality of school buildings The public finance initiative has contributed pound;810m towards school building work since 1997. But the initiative has been limited to 31 large-scale projects, and PFI credits make up less than a sixth of the pound;5 billion spent by the Government on capital projects between April 1997 and 2001.

13 Year-on-year targets for improvement for every school and every local education authority Labour can claim that its prescriptive target-setting regime for primary schools has helped bring about one of its greatest achievements in Government - consistent and dramatic improvements in primary school English and maths tests.

But some teachers complain that too much pressure is now being placed on pupils. Has the measurement culture gone too far?

14 Failing schools closed down and started up again under fresh leadership The Fresh-Start policy has been a PR disaster for Labour. A BBC documentary showed pupils turning up to the Fresh Start Islington Arts and Media School when it was still a building site - illustrating complaints that the policy gave schools insufficient time to be re-opened. Policy effectively abandoned last December, to be replaced by the City Academies scheme.

15 Homeschool contracts for every pupil to get parents involved as well as teachers Home-school agreements were introduced September 1999. "Contract" dropped because they are not legally binding. Research suggests they are having little impact on school-parent relationships.

16 More power for parents with greater representation on governing bodies and LEAs Governing bodies were expanded last year with more places for parents. But the DFEE has since proposed that there be fewer parents though they would form a larger proportion of the total.

More than 300 parent-governor representatives were elected to LEAs last summer, with voting and speaking rights. First national conference revealed that many are unsure how to fulfil their role.

17 Minimum homework guidelines for every pupil and new homework clubs Homework guidelines were published by the Government in November 1998. They were part of new home-school agreements introduced to encourage improved co-operation between parents and teachers. Nine to 11-year-olds are expected to do 30 minutes a day, rising to two-and-a-half hours for 14 to 16-year-olds.

18 Target 2000 - all 18-year-olds to have five GCSEs or equivalent The Department for Education and Employment said there were no figures showing how many 18-year-olds have five GCSEs. According to statistics, just under 90 per cent of 19-year-olds have GCSEs at grades A to G, a foundation GNVQ or NVQ level 1. That includes the three-quarters of 19-year-olds who have five or more GCSEs grade A to C, intermediate GNVQ or NVQ level 2. Last year 95 per cent of 16-year-olds achieved at least one GCSE.

19 Reform student finance to ensure fairness and expanded access to higher education Labour had "no plans" to introduce tuition fees at the last election but they arrived anyway.

Labour claimed that the policy was necessary to improve university funding and that poorer students were unaffected. But students and left-wingers are still angry, claiming that people are put off university by the fear of debt. Enrolments on to undergraduate courses have increased by 9 per cent since 1997.

20 Individual learning accounts for adult learning, and a University for Industry to bring training in new skills to homes and workplaces The one-millionth individual learning account was opened earlier this year, but there are concerns that public money is replacing private investment in training. The University for Industry was launched in 1999 but has been beset by problems and is accused of merely duplicating what further education already offered.

21 More of national income to be spent on education as the cost of unemployment falls Labour met the letter of its pledge in April. But although they will spend more this year than the Tories did in 1997, they allocated a lower proportion of national income to education than John Major's government over the parliament. Big spending increases are planned for the next two years.

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