Will 10-year plan stop slump?

7th December 2007 at 00:00
Ministers pin hopes on Children's Plan after another damning international report.The government's 10-year strategy to improve children's lives will be published next week as it tries to bounce back from damning studies about England's education system.

International test results published this week showed our 15-year-olds rated no better than average in reading and maths, and worse than had previously been thought in science.

This followed an equally dispiriting report last week that found reading standards falling for 10-year-olds compared with other countries. The Children's Plan will give the Government a chance to get back on the front foot.

A focus on raising standards will continue, but the plan will flag up wider concerns affecting children's lives and encourage schools to become more involved in the wider role of children's services.

Ed Balls, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary, told The TES it would reflect his "department's mission to put the needs of children first".

A review of the primary curriculum is widely expected to be included. There is also likely to be a pledge to offer more catch-up classes and one-to-one tuition in a bid to close the gap between the highest and lowest achievers.

Mr Balls said an initiative launched this week to offer specialist help to children with dyslexia was typical of the schemes the Children's Plan would support.

"Ten years ago, the first priority for the Government was to get standards going up for all children. Now we are focusing on particular barriers to learning, both inside and outside the classroom" he said. "We need to promote supportive relationships between families, schools, social services and wider society."

This week, trials of an alternative to key stage national tests began, in which KS2 and 3 pupils sit tests when their teacher believes they are ready to do so. This is seen by ministers as the future of testing, but the Children's Plan is unlikely to go further in changing the assessment regime, despite widespread concerns over current arrangements.

The Programme for International Student Assessment tests, taken by 400,000 pupils worldwide last year, saw UK pupils sliding to 14th out of 57 countries for science, 17th for reading and 24th for maths, leaving Mr Balls facing questions about what Labour has delivered in return for the billions it has spent on education since 1997.

The Children's Plan is expected to promise parents more support to encourage them to engage more with their children's education. There will also be an pound;18 million scheme over the next three years to help the most vulnerable families keep their children safe from accidental injuries at home.

Mr Balls said the plan would include initiatives to tackle youth crime. His comments came as Beverley Hughes, the children's minister, announced that pound;420m was to be spent on skate parks, basketball courts and music workshops in disadvantaged areas.

Ms Hughes said she was responding to the concerns of youth workers that young people often get into trouble on Friday and Saturday nights when youth services are typically closed.

Almost pound;525,000 has been spent on five "citizens' juries" in preparing the plan, with the aim of giving members of the public the chance to contribute. Mixed panels of parents, teachers and social care workers took part in the sessions, held in Bristol, London, Leeds, Portsmouth and Birmingham.

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