David Blunkett launches strategy to tackle teenage under-achievement. Nicolas Barnard reports
NEW CENTURY, new tests, new targets, was the message to teachers from David Blunkett as the Government greeted the millennium by shifting its focus from primary to secondary education.
The Education and Employment Secretary used the first ministerial speech of the year to launch
measures to tackle "the wholly unacceptable lack of progress from age 11 to 14".
In a keynote speech at the North of England conference in Wigan, Mr Blunkett condemned low expectations and said a third of pupils did worse in tests at 12 than when they left primary school at 11.
"We cannot fatalistically shake our heads and put failure at this age down to 'adolescence'," he said. Teenage years were marked by a creativity, enthusiasm and passion which schools were failing to tap.
Measures announced include:
tests for 12-year-olds to assess their secondary progress;
statutory targets for 14-year-olds, to be set by schools next December for summer 2002;
extending the literacy and num-eracy strategies into secondary schools;
doubling of summer schools with long-term aim of a place for every child moving into secondary;
training for teachers to improve their subject knowledge and to make lessons more inspiring.
The strategy will focu on those pupils who failed to reach the expected numeracy and literacy levels at the end of primary school.
In a separate move, all 16-year-olds will be offered a place in summer camp or other challenging activity at the end of Year 11 to encourage more to stay in education or training.
The tests, to be piloted this year and available free to all schools from 2001, will be optional. Butlike the primary literacy and numeracy hours, schools will have to show good reason if they choose not to use them.
Conservative education spokeswoman Theresa May said Labour was obsessed with targets, and condemned the literacy and numeracy strategies as "one-size-fits-all - they impose one approach rather than allowing flexibility which meets local need."
Unions cautiously welcomed the new focus on secondary education, but rejected criticism of teachers.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, warned ministers to listen to teachers and devise professionally acceptable tests, while Doug McAvoy at the National Union of Teachers said that, given the Government's record of attacks on teachers, most would react with cynicism to the plans.
But a DFEE spokesperson said Mr Blunkett's aim was not to attack secondary teachers but to offer help in "the last area of schooling to come under the spotlight".