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BLAIR'S SPEECH TO LABOUR EDUCATION SUMMIT

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The following are introductory remarks by Tony Blair at today's Labour education summit in London on Sunday: ...
The following are introductory remarks by Tony Blair at today's Labour education summit in London on Sunday:

'I am delighted to welcome all of you to this education summit, bringing together 40 of the most innovative and respected educators in the country.

We want to discuss your experience of turning round failing schools, helping children achieve their potential, and ensuring that adults have opportunities to achieve academic excellence and lifelong learning.

'I am immensely grateful to you all for giving up your time and energy to share your ideas with us. I don't know your political views: they do not matter. What does matter is that you share our commitment to education.

'We are in the final phase of the general election campaign, and I want to start the final week as I began the first week - by focussing on New Labour's absolute commitment to raising standards in education for all our children. Education is my number one passion. It is our number one campaign priority. It is the country's number one need.

'Education, Education, Education. It helps people fulfil their talents. It helps our nation compete in the world. It is the passport to a fulfilled life and a higher standard of living.

'The great problem in Britain has not been that governments did not recognise the power of education. It is that they have been content to see excellence restricted to the few, instead of extending it to the many.

-- We are 42nd in the world education league

-- 19 countries are doing better in Maths attainment

-- Nearly half our 11 year olds failing to achieve the expected standard in literacy and numeracy

-- And 60 per cent of adult workers have no vocational qualifications.

'That just is not good enough. It doesn't do justice to our children or to our nation. The question is what we should do about it.

'I make no apology, in the field of education as elsewhere, for comparing the threat of a Conservative fifth term with our own positive proposals.

'Take Mr Major's obsession with going back to a grammar school in every town. It may make a headline, but what does it mean?

'As he won't answer, I will. It means five secondary moderns in every town.

'Mr Major calls it a policy of selection. I call it a policy of rejection. Selection for the few, rejection for the many.

'A return to the 11-plus. It is fatuous. It is absurd. It is dangerous. Will he please answer these questions:

'Which schools will be the grammar school in every town?

'Which schools are to be the secondary moderns?

'And since the government have admitted the new schools will be funded out of existing resources, which of the new secondary moderns are to have their budgets cut?

'Like the plan for pensions, he has not thought beyond the first day's headlines and the proposal is unravelling.

'Of course there are problems in some comprehensive schools - though I have to say that expert opinion is that it is in primary schools that we must start to turn things round. But the answer isto modernise comprehensive schools, not abolish them.

'Children do have different abilities, different talents. Let's recognise

them in the way we organise comprehensive education, not abandon the ideal that

the job of education is to find the greatest talent of every child, and develop it to the full.

'We have set out four principles that will be the non-negotiable foundations of education policy with Labour. Let me briefly run through them, to set the scene for today's discussions.

'First, we say standards more than structures are what count. We know what it takes to run a good school: a skilled head, committed teachers, active parents. Let's use the power of government to spread the best practice from the good to the bad. So we promise new targets for the basics in primary schools, with the means to achieve them. We support mandatory qualifications for head teachers. And we have shown how every school and college can be linked up to the information superhighway.

'Second, we need to raise expectations of our children: I know from my own children that if you tell them something is hard but possible, they are ten times more likely to achieve it than if you just assume they will fail. But high expectations means tough decisions:

-- about failing schools, that need to be closed down and given a fresh start with a new school on the same site

-- about proper inspection of LEAs, which must be dedicated to raising standards rather than controlling schools

-- about home-school contracts that set out the responsibilities of parents

as well as school

'Third, partnership with teachers must be at the heart of plans to improve the quality of schooling, but it must always be children's interests which come first. We must value our teachers - motivate them, recognise their achievement, give them the support of the wider community, with a General Teaching Council and new grades in the teaching profession.

'But the new partnership with teachers must be based on pressure as well as support. That means effective teacher training and an induction year for new teachers, quick though fair mechanisms for removing teachers not up to the job, and proper targets for year on year improvements in standards of achievement in schools.

'Fourthly, we must recognise that learning is a lifelong process. The new economy demands new skills and more education. That is why we have developed exciting plans for the Individual Learning Accounts to put power in the hands of adults themselves, and for a new University for Industry to bring learning to homes and workplaces. We need to make these ideas a reality.

'We recognise too, of course, that resources matter in education: that is why we will be redirecting the Assisted Places scheme to cut class sizes in infants' schools, why we want to divert the money from the nursery voucher scheme into proper provision, why we believe there is room for innovative public-private partnerships to repair school buildings, why we believe it is right to use Lottery money for additional expenditure for things not covered by core spending - life after school homework clubs, and why we are committed over the lifetime of the next government to raise spending on education as a share of national income, as we cut the bills of economic and social failure.

'Two weeks ago, I laid out Labour's 21 steps to 21st century education:

-- guaranteed nursery places

-- smaller classes

-- proper assessment

-- new targets for the 3 R's

-- qualifications for head teachers

-- reforms to teacher training

-- Associate Teachers

-- a General Teaching Council

-- modernised comprehensives

-- broader A levels and upgraded vocational qualifications

-- every school linked to the information superhighway

-- public-private partnerships to improve school buildings

-- year on year targets for school and LEA improvement

-- failing schools given a fresh start

-- home-school contracts for every pupil

-- more power for parents

-- minimum homework guidelines

-- all 18 year olds at NVQ level 2

-- fair student finance for expanded higher education

-- individual learning accounts and a new University for Industry

-- and more spending on education as the cost of social and economic failure falls

'This is an ambitious programme. The essential proposition we make is that education is the future, and it must be for the many and not the few. I believe we have laid the foundations for a genuine new consensus on education policy for the next few years. We reject the division of the past, but equally we will not tolerate any hint of slack standards or low expectations. In the battle for higher standards, we must all be on the same side. Parents and governors on the same side as teachers, central and local government demanding the best and improving the worst.

'Now let's get on with the first of our six sessions. Inevitably time is very short, so apologies for that in advance. We want to start with how we get the basics right early on. Sue Pearson has led the transformation of Lache Infants School in Chester. I want her to introduce the discussion.''

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