Total commitment;Platform

16th January 1998 at 00:00
Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett outlines Labour's new steps to help teachers get the basics right

Teachers are at the very heart of our drive to raise standards in schools. Those at the chalkface must have the tools to do the job, because without that back-up, pressure for improved results will not succeed.

Since we were elected just over eight months ago, the Labour party has demonstrated that education really is at the heart of the Government's agenda. Schools will be getting an extra billion pounds for the next financial year to help boost stan-dards. A new capital fund will provide up to pound;2 billion for repairs and modernisation over the lifetime of the Parliament, with more than pound;1.3 billion in new grants from central government. We have made a start on our drive to reduce infant class sizes and to replace nursery vouchers with quality places for all four-year-olds.

This week, the Government has taken a number of important steps to help teachers do their job more easily. Our aim is to ensure that they are able to deliver our national targets and that they have the skills needed for the 21st century. From changes in the national curriculum to the removal of bureaucracy and the better use of technology, the Government has sought to respond to the needs of teachers.

We have already set out demanding targets for improvements in literacy and numeracy. Setting targets is clearly not enough. That is why we have launched a national literacy strategy. The strategy is backed by pound;59 million specifically for literacy over the next year, which we have designated as the National Year of Reading. There will be in-service training for primary teachers, a new teacher-training curriculum and more money for books. This summer we are backing 500 summer literacy schools, building on the lessons and the success of the first 50 summer schools last year.

Young people must learn how to read effectively from the start. That means a structured approach based on phonics. Shortly, our numeracy task-force will be reporting on its findings so that we can develop a similar structured approach to the teaching of primary maths.

These improvements will, of themselves, make an important difference. But on Tuesday we went one step further. We listened to what teachers, parents and employers told us about how dedicated time to teach literacy and numeracy is too often squeezed out because there is not enough flexibility within the national curriculum. Because we shared that concern, we decided to consult on the introduction of important changes for primary schools.

From September, we will expect schools to find at least one dedicated hour a day each for English and maths. That will allow properly structured lessons in both subjects to develop the skills of literacy and numeracy fully for all our children. The time devoted to science, information technology and religious education will remain as it is at present under the current system.

There will be greater flexibility for teachers in how they teach the other national curriculum subjects - history, geography, design and technology, art, music and physical education. But there is no question of any of these subjects being dropped. Teachers will still have to teach them, but they will have more flexibility and profes-sional responsibility in doing so - and they will have more opportunity to offer other subjects such as modern languages, too.

We recognise the importance of children having the knowledge and understanding of our history and culture and of the world around them. They should be enabled to develop their creativity and imagination. The changes we made will ensure that they continue to get this rounded education, but crucially it will also mean that the 3Rs get the time that we all know they need. The new arrangements are fully backed by the Office for Standards in Education, which will be introducing a new focus to its inspections to coincide with these changes.

Today, Estelle Morris, the schools minister, will be announcing a further step towards reducing bureaucracy and red tape at all levels. Last summer, I set up a working group of experts in education and industry to advise on how to cut bureaucracy. The working group has made a number of practical suggestions based on a detailed study undertaken by Coopers amp; Lybrand, as well as the expertise of its members - which included members of all the main teaching associations and unions.

The working group's recommendations include: * reducing the burden of consultations, by, for example, sampling the views of a representative number of schools rather than consulting every school on every occasion; * simplifying special educational needs procedures and paperwork; * streamlining the process of schools bidding for funds; * using the Internet to help spread good practice on cutting red tape (our addressis; * OFSTED will clarify its maximum requirements for documentation and we will offer guidance on less time-consuming ways of providing high-quality reports to parents.

The working group's report will be followed by permanent high-level arrange-ments in the Department for Education and Employment to challenge time-consuming requirements from all sources, seeking to eliminate or simplify them radically. That will help ensure that unnecessary red tape is stripped out at source.

In addition, I have announced the establishment of a pilot scheme to show how a family of schools can develop and operate with a reduced bureaucratic burden, while maintaining the quality of their administrative and management systems. The pilot will draw on the full range of recommendations in the working group's report, and will provide schools with advice and support to help them cut red tape.

Last Wednesday, at the British Education and Training Technology exhibition in London, I set out some ways in which we intend to help teachers to get the best from information and communication technology.

It is worrying that some surveys suggest that up to two-thirds of teachers still do not feel able to use ICT well. We have established a Learning Grid, which from Wednesday will include both a Virtual Teachers Centre to support in-service training and a database from our standards and effectiveness unit to highlight best practice and offer back-up advice on issues such as target setting, literacy and extra-curricular activities. The database will develop in the months ahead and will include best practice on how to reduce red tape as well.

The report which Dennis Stevenson prepared on ICT for Tony Blair and myself before the election identified both content and training as the key priorities for improving its effective use in the classroom. Our National Grid addresses the first point. To address the second one, we have a pound;235 million lottery-funded package of in-service training, with some support for teachers to have access to their own laptop computers. Taken together, these measures will help our schools and pupils to use ICT effectively, appropriately and efficiently.

Finally, good home-school partnerships are essential to effective learning. That is why I chose to address the need for better parenting in a speech in Sheffield yesterday. I am convinced that improved support for parents of very young children, through projects such as Birmingham's Books for Babies scheme, will ensure that parents are able to play their part with teachers in supporting their children's education. In that way we can work together to overcome the disadvantages of poverty of income by setting aside the poverty of expectation which can too often be reinforced in the home. The responsibility of the parents and their co-operation with teachers cannot be underestimated.

This Government is committed to transforming education in Britain. In order to do so, we want to work in partnership with teachers, parents and others in the community to enable every child to achieve their full potential. We are prepared to tackle failure where it occurs. But we are also equally prepared to celebrate what works and to ensure that teachers have the tools that they need to do the job. Our announcements this week demonstrate that commitment clearly.

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