Northern Ireland's education minister, Tony Worthington, has unveiled a package of reforms to raise standards.
It includes tougher targets at the end of key stage 2 for mathematics than in England, reflecting the fact that standards are higher in Northern Ireland. He wants 80 per cent of pupils to reach at least level 4 by the year 2002, the target set for English children is 75 per cent.
Mr Worthington promised a school improvement programme including intensive support for schools that need it, a general teaching council, a mandatory qualification for new headteachers, and steps to improve the quality of existing heads. There will also be work on poor literacy and numeracy, especially among boys and early-years pupils, encouragement and support for parental involvement, emphasis on homework, including after-school clubs funded by the National Lottery.
The minister said it was "patently unrealistic" to expect teachers to cater for the specific learning needs of pupils if class sizes were too high.