The road to Sanctuary Buildings . . .

12th July 1996 at 01:00
Labour hopes its draft manifesto will smooth David Blunkett's path to the DFEE door. Frances Rafferty reports. The day after Peter Snow's map of England changes from blue to red and Newsnight's House of Commons' gizmo shows Labour MPs filling the benches, David Blunkett will be labelling his boxes of files "deliver to Sanctuary Buildings".

Or so he hopes. Tony Blair's Labour: new life for Britain document, launched last week, is the leader's pre-manifesto glossy and lays the foundation of the party's election campaign. If it proves successful then it is expected that David Blunkett, the shadow education secretary, will be in charge of translating rhetoric into reality.

Labour has made its priority, as one of the five early pledges listed in the "road to the manifesto" document, to cut class sizes to 30 or under for five to seven-year-olds, using money saved from the abolition of the Assisted Places Scheme.

The document also concentrates on the need to raise standards and skills: a radical improvement in primary standards focusing on the basics; better testing and assessment with target-setting of results; value-added performance tables; reform of teacher training and the sacking of inadequate staff. There is also to be training in the form of earn-as-you-learn accounts and everyone under 25 will be given the opportunity to gain skills or qualifications.

Within six weeks of a Labour victory chancellor Gordon Brown will announce his first budget. It is then that money will be allocated to training and to cut class sizes. Mr Blunkett will have to fight for anything else though Labour sources say many proposals will be able to go ahead without extra money or new legislation.

Mr Blunkett will benefit from a Tory legislative programme which has seen a major education Act for every year of the Government's reign. These prescriptive Acts have greatly increased the Education Secretary's powers. Some will have to be repealed, but immediate action can be taken, for example, to stop any further opting out.

Other measures should be ready to go. Despite scepticism within the schools' sector, Labour hopes to have agreements for a public-private partnership to fund school repairs. Professor Michael Barber's task force on literacy will have its report and recommendations ready for an incoming government and deals will have been struck with British Telecom and cable companies to put schools on the so-called information superhighway.

Other policies, for example home-school contracts, seem more problematic. Labour is using some friendly local authorities to pilot its schemes, but in the long run it can only encourage LEAs, and particularly schools, to take them on board. It is difficult to see what sanctions the party can wield against parents who renege on homework agreements unless Jack Straw, the shadow home secretary, has a few ideas up his sleeve.

A fairly complex piece of legislation will have to be drafted to create the community, foundation and aided schools outlined in the Diversity and Excellence policy document. Although there will be jostling among the different departments for parliamentary time, this should be high on the list.

On the reform of teacher training, Labour wants a core curriculum with emphasis on teaching strategies and pupil discipline.

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