Tokens of gratitude

29th September 2000 at 01:00
EARLY this week, the mood of the Labour Party Conference was distinctly jittery. Delegates gathered in rain-lashed Brighton in nervous anticipation, waiting to see if Tony Blair and Gordon Brown between them would give them back their confidence in their party - and regain the trust of the country as a whole.

By Wednesday, first the Chancellor and then the Prime Minister had achieved the first of those aims, with extra-strong speeches containing a judicious mix of mea culpa, an appeal to the achievements of the past three years, a fierce determination not to be thrown off track, and a raft of pre-manifesto commitments aimed at a second term.

Whether or not they had done the business with the rest of the country - particularly teachers, who are prone to cast yearning glances at Liberal-Democrat education policies - is not so clear, but the signs look good. Pledges to spend more on education came thick and fast: a promise to raise the proportion of gross domestic product which goes to education, a nursery place for every three-year-old, an extra pound;1billion for computers, and a further pound;8bn for buildings.

More spnding on literacy and numeracy at key stage 3 is particularly welcome; 11-year-olds who arrive at secondary school lacking basic skills frequently never catch up, and the 11 to 14 age-group, although often the most challenging to teach, can get a raw deal compared to exam groups when there are not enough good teachers to go round.

And, intriguingly, it looks as if William Hague has finally secured the continued existence of education authorities. The electioneering atmosphere and the need to pour scorn on Conservative policies resulted in an unequivocal statement by David Blunkett that LEAs are indispensible in education. He said that no government in its right mind would attempt to run 24,000 schools. We will have to wait until next week to see the Tories' "free schools" policy further explained, and to assess the reaction of headteachers to it.

Meanwhile, there were no casual sideswipes at teachers; both Blair and Blunkett made it clear that they understand how much they owe to teaching staff for raising standards in schools - and the Prime Minister described British teachers as the best in the world.

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