David Blunkett's speech won praise from Roy Hattersley, one-time thorn in the side of the shadow education secretary, but others had reservations about the proposed summer-school scheme.
Mr Hattersley, addressing a fringe meeting held by the Campaign for State Education (CASE), alluded to his row at last year's party conference with Mr Blunkett over grant-maintained schools, but said he agreed with most of what he heard from him that morning.
He said he thought the summer schools were a good idea. "It might not be fun to be an 11-year-old and told you are stupid and you can't play cricket for three weeks with your friends. But it won't be fun to be a 16-year-old and be unable to read or write."
Margaret Tulloch, CASE's executive secretary, took issue. She said: "I am against the use of a home-school contract to enforce this. I think the word contract sends out quite the wrong message. It sounds too legalistic. It is better to consult parents about a school policy rather than make them sign pieces of paper."
Mr Hattersley said he was pleased to hear Mr Blunkett saying parents will be able to vote for the abolition of grammar schools. He added he would make sure Labour kept its promise and would travel the country to join the campaign where ballots had been agreed.
Mr Hattersley also said he did not agree with league tables, even value-added ones, but his starkest message was on funding. The education system would not improve unless funding was increased. If the teachers who have been lost during Conservative rule are to be replaced, then money must be found - and spending commitments must be made - to pay for them. "The Labour party must face that dilemma," he said.