Play your part in a momentous year

5th September 1997 at 01:00
Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett asks for views from 'the sharp end' of education

The summer has given us all time for quiet reflection. I hope teachers will join me in starting the new school year with a renewed vigour and enthusiasm for the opportunities and challenges ahead. I went to harness that energy to help sustain and motivate the profession in the drive to boost standards.

This will be a momentous year for education. The consultation on our White Paper, Excellence in Schools, is the most significant education exercise since 1944. To implement our vision we need the views of those who work at the sharp end in the classroom. You know the names and faces of the next generation and their true capabilities.

Since being elected in May, the new Government has already committed well over Pounds 2 billion for education to tackle repairs, build for the future and to help raise standards.

As yesterday's education summit at 10 Downing Street demonstrated, the Prime Minister is clearly focused on the challenges ahead. He wants to stimulate a full debate on standards - and yesterday we heard from more than 30 headteachers and others from the world of education about how they succeeded, often against the odds.

Four main themes were discussed at the summit. These are four of the most important issues which we want teachers, heads, parents and others in education to discuss together in the month ahead.

First we must examine how we stretch the abilities of the brightest children while at the same time offering support to those who need extra help.

Most youngsters have strengths in some subjects and weaknesses in others. They need encouragement to enable them to play to their strengths and support in tackling subjects where they need to improve.

The White Paper discusses how we can use setting by ability in certain subjects, make effective use of specialist schools and new technology, as well as linking with employers and further education to fulfil the potential of every child. We want to hear what strategies you are using to achieve this.

Second, we must strengthen leadership. Invariably, a successful school has a good dedicated headteacher. We want all schools to have this advantage. To achieve this we intend to introduce a national training programme for existing headteachers and a professional headship qualification for those with leadership potential.

Local educational authorities will have a new role in supporting the standards drive, acting as champions for parents and pupils. Senior educations officers have an important role in helping schools to set and meet targets, to raise standards continuously and to apply pressure where they do not. We want senior officers to have the appropriate skills to support schools and we are discussing means of providing new training opportunities for them with local government representatives. We want to hear your views on how leadership can be improved at both school and local education authority level.

Third, we want to improve both the quality of teaching and the motivation of teachers. The two go hand in hand. Our New Deal for teachers will mean better training for existing teachers to make sure the most effective methods are used and focused in particular on literacy, numeracy and information technology.

There will also be a new General Teaching Council to promote and regulate the profession; new induction arrangements for all newly-qualified teachers; better assessment of how well heads and teachers do their jobs; and effective appraisal for teachers and headteachers. We want to hear views from the chalkface about how we can best introduce our new deal.

While there are clearly problems with standards in a significant minority of schools, many teachers are achieving small miracles every day in the classroom. We must celebrate and learn from such achievements.

Our fourth strand involves a willingness to tackle underperformance in schools. Together we must ensure that every school achieves its best. Many schools do succeed against the odds and we must spread the best practice to the rest.

That is why we are introducing a new system of targets for schools and localities. These targets - including those for literacy and numeracy - will be realistic goals which will enable us to achieve the quantum leap in standards we need to succeed as a nation. From the start of primary school through secondary education we must no longer tolerate a culture of complacency from some while others are able to work wonders in similar situations.

This is not just about failing schools - we have already announced measures to match pressure with support for both failing schools and failing local education authorities. It is as much about those schools which could do much better than at present, where their pupils are simply not achieving the success they should.

I will also be addressing issues of educational and social exclusion in the weeks ahead. Higher expectations and real improvement are essential - and we want to hear from the chalkface about how we can achieve this.

These are four key strands in our consultation. There are four weeks left in which to participate. In the next two weeks, there will be seven regional consultation conferences where parents, teachers, headteachers, directors of education, chief education officers, union officials and representatives from the business community will be putting their views to ministers.

I am very pleased that local authorities, teaching unions and The TES are organising other events around the country to take forward the debate.

But this is debate which should be taking place in every school. This is why we sent each school a copy of the White Paper and a video setting out the key issues. I hope that you will take the opportunity to promote discussion with parents and school staff so that you can convey fully the views of your school community.

When we publish our Education Bill I want teachers and parents to feel that their views have been heard. This cannot happen if you don't take part in the consultation.

We all have a part to play in the future of education. We all want what is best for our children. Our vision is one of excellence in every school. You are the key to putting it into practice.

Together we are responsible for getting it right.

How to respond

Written or taped comments can be sent to Stuart Miller, DFEE, Excellence in Schools, Room 4.63, Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BT or by fax 0171-925 6425

The White Paper and its summ ry version are available on the Internet. The address is

Comments can be e-mailed to: A summary version of the White Paper is available free of charge by calling 0800 99 66 00.

More information about this and other consultation exercises described in the White Paper is available from the Excellence in Schools helpline: 0645 123 001 (open 9am-5pm Monday- Friday until October 7)

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