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EDUCATION: 'LABOUR SETS THE STANDARD' (FULL TEXT)

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Two weeks ago Labour launched a new national literacy target as an addition to the Education Bill. Education Minist...
Two weeks ago Labour launched a new national literacy target as an addition to the Education Bill. Education Minister Eric Forth refused to accept the clause, saying:

'It is a matter of judgement whether we are ready for that degree of prescription.' He said such a target would be 'counterproductive'.

Now, two weeks later, we have another U-turn from ministers as they accept yet another Labour proposal to raise standards. We have proposed demanding national, local and school targets for several years - ministers have been confused and contradictory on this issue.

In fact the four Tory pledges to parents announced by Gillian Shephard yesterday are all lifted straight from Labour's policies:

First - National target setting:

Labour first proposed setting national targets for school improvement in April 1991, when Jack Straw published 'Today's education and training: tomorrow's skills.'

Labour then set targets for ' four out of five 16-18 year olds achieving at least five GCSEs at Grades A-C or the equivalent', within five years of a Labour government, and for 'half of our 16-19 year olds' to qualify at A level or the equivalent within 10 years. At the time the government published a white paper on education which failed to address the issue of setting national targets. (Education and Training for the 21st Century)

Opening doors to a learning society (July 1994), Excellence for Everyone (December 1995) and Aiming Higher (March 1996) all restated Labour's commitment to national targets.

Second - School target setting:

Labour proposed that every school should be required to set targets in line with LEA and National targets in December 1995. Excellence for Everyone said:

'All schools will have a clear duty to set clear targets for improvement based upon their previous best performance. Every school in the country will have its own development plan and targets for improvement, linking in to the development plan of the LEA concerned.'

These proposals were drawn from work that schools in Labour LEAs like Birmingham and Nottingham were developing with their education departments. The Birmingham initiative arose from recommendations from the Birmingham Education Commission, published in October 1993, which said that the local education authority should 'draw up, in consultation with schools, both individual school and city-wide targets in such fields as literacy, numeracy, public examination results, staying-on rates and participation in further and higher education, taking into account the National Education and Training Targets.'

After Labour published Excellence for Everyone in December 1995, Gillian Shephard followed some weeks later with an article in The Guardian setting out the government's plans to improve teaching, saying, 'that means setting clear and ambitious targets...We shall introduce baseline assessment of pupils at five and, in the longer term we will move towards the publication of value-added information.' (Guardian 6 Feb 1992).

In February 1996 at the Labour's Local Government Conference in Birmingham, David Blunkett announced a project involving 26 Labour LEAs to develop and disseminate LEA initiatives in raising standards in local schools, including target-setting. Some weeks later, on March 4, Schools minister Robin Squire announced that£2m (recycled from the existing GEST budget) was to be available to '23 local education authorities whose primary schools take action to improve standards, including setting targets.' (DFEE Press release 'Cash boost for schools to set targets and raise standards', 4 March 1996).

Third - Information for parents:

Labour has long history of support for information for parents. Labour's 1979 Education Bill, which fell at the General Election, would have required the publication of examination results, as well as information about schools and the LEA's education services. It also included plans to allow parents to state a preference for the school of their choice. The Tory Government incorporated these plans in their 1980 Education Act.

Labour authorities lead the field in publishing comparative information on school performance, and in developing ways of contextualising and showing value-added information to help schools analyse their progress and plan for improvement, and to enable parents to judge their local schools.

In Tower Hamlets, the Labour LEA has developed expertise in the analysis of data on performance for school improvement. A wide range of information is collected from schools linking performance in tests and examinations to background factors such as ethnicity, language, time in nursery education and other socio-economic factors. This has enabled the LEA to highlight areas of strengths and weaknesses and to target support to schools where it is needed. This data is shared with schools to enable them to evaluate their performance.

The LEAs work has been highlighted in the DFEE publication 'Looking at National Curriculum Assessment results: What LEAs are doing', as an example of good practice.

The Tories have also been converted to Labour's policy of providing 'value-added' information on school performance. The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority is currently exploring ways of including this information in the lists of school examination results which are published every year.

During the passage of the 1992 Schools Act, Labour argued that information about school performance should be published in value-added form.

'Again and again we have argued the need for Ministers and local authorities to concentrate on the value-added by schools. If one simply relies on the raw data, and not school effectiveness data, it may show the strengths of the pupils at the school, not the strength of the school.' Jack Straw, shadow spokesman on education, 19 November 1991).

'It was made perfectly clear at second reading and in committee that we were in favour of raw data being published. But we have been arguing that it is very importantto publish additional information that is based on a more sophisticated analysis of that data.' (Baroness Blackstone, speaking in the Lords, 10 March 1992).

David Blunkett repeated Labour's commitment to introduce, alongside 'raw' data, value-added performance information in October '94, just before the 1994 examination results were published. One month later the government announced that SCAA would begin work developing value-added tables.

Fourth: Improving under-performing schools:

Excellence for Everyone set out a comprehensive range of policies for tackling under-performing schools, many of which Gillian Shephard is now enthusiastically adopting.

Just months after Tony Blair outlined plans to introduce a headteacher qualification in June '95, Gillian Shephard announced plans for the Teacher Training Agency to develop a similar scheme.

'The National Commission on Education...mentioned the system that currently operates in the United States where potential heads have to undergo sufficient training to prove their capacity to take on the responsibilities of leading a school. I think we should look at introducing such a system in the UK. David Blunkett and his team will be examining the issues involved.' (Tony Blair, 'Realising our True Potential', speech to the Institute of Education, University of London, 23 June 1995)

'Schools must have professional leadership of the highest quality. The difference between a good and an ineffective head can be the difference between success and failure for a school....Labour will improve headteacher training to boost leadership and management skills with a new national qualification...Labour will establish a national register of teachers qualified to become heads to ensure greater consistency in standards.' (Excellence for Everyone, December 1995)

Labour also proposed to improve the quality and effectiveness of teacher appraisal to help teachers achieve their full potential; and rigorous action to root out bad teachers. Labour's proposals were endorsed by the National Association of Head Teachers when the general secretary said in a speech in March 1996 that 'You cannot expect thousands of excellent teachers to stand idly by and ignore the fact that a cohort of poor teachers exists and often draws exactly the same salary.'

Excellence for Everyone said that LEAs would be required to draw up 3-year Education Development Plans setting out strategies for raising standards in their area. The document also said that LEAs should be inspected by Ofsted and the Audit Commission. Labour followed this up this month, with proposals for action to tackle poor LEAs:

'We will set efficiency targets for all authorities based on their local development plans. Such plans will have to be approved by the secretary of State. We will not tolerate failure. Regardless of whether the council is Tory, Liberal Democrat or Labour, we will act. If an LEA is deemed to be 'failing', we will send in an Improvement Team to turn the authority around. The relevant powers of the education committee would be suspended and the team would report directly to the Secretary of State.' (Labour Party press release 7 February 1997)

The record of Labour LEAs

The Conservatives have overall control only 5 of the 140 LEAs in England and Wales, compared with the 79 controlled by Labour. The government claims credit for rising standards, but blames Labour LEAs for standards being too low.

School standards are not high enough and there is growing evidence of a widening gap in achievement between our most successful and least successful schools. Urgent action is needed to tackle these problems. The Tories have had 18 years to tackle these problems.

LEAs have an important role to play in improving standards. Schools are responsible for managing themselves, whilst LEAs provide the democratic framework within which strategic decisions on budgets, school improvement and effective planning are made. This view was supported by the government in its own white paper that preceded the education bill: 'The government sees a significant continuing role for LEAs' and included providing services, quality assurance and co-ordinating networks and initiatives in that role. (Self Government for Schools, DFEE , June 1996).

A recent Ofsted inspection report on Labour Barking and Dagenham LEA said that its schools 'benefit from a range of high quality services provided by the LEA,' and that 'the work of inspectors or advisory teachers has had a perceptible effect on the quality of teaching in every secondary school visited.'

In London, the Tory flagship councils of Wandsworth and Westminster get poorer GCSE results than the Labour boroughs of Camden, and Hammersmith and Fulham. Labour education authorities such as Birmingham and Nottingham have taken the lead in tackling underachievement through schemes like baseline assessment, value-added analysis and early literacy programmes. Labour controlled Barking and Dagenham has gained national prominence through its primary maths project. Many of these Labour LEA initiatives to raise standards have been adopted by the Tories and included in their education legislation.

All the councils at the bottom of the league table in 1996 have improved their grades since last year. In Tower Hamlet and Islington, the Boroughs' schools have improved their exam results for the fifth year out of six. Ofsted reported that results in Barking and Dagenham LEA 'have risen much faster than the average rate nationally', and 'all the evidence suggests that, were it not for the work of the authority, standards would be a great deal lower than they actually are.'

The Tories neglect to mention that the second and third worst performing authorities in terms of expenditure on management and administration per pupil are Westminster -£125 per pupil - and Kensington and Chelsea -£121 per pupil - (the worst performer is the tiny City of London): two-fifths of the total LEAs controlled by the Tories. One Labour target the Tories will not match is limiting management and administration costs to a maximum£50 per pupil.

Local electors have shown they don't trust the Tories to run their education services. The Tories have been virtually wiped out of local government, and have overall control of education in only five out of 140 LEAs in England and Wales.

Same old Tories, same old lies

The Tories made four accusations against Labour-led LEAs today. They are all lies.

Lie One: Coventry Council has banned red ink from schools marking

This is a lie.

Coventry has never made any such ruling. Teachers are free to use red ink if they want to. One headteacher - who has since taken early retirement - issued this instruction in one school. It had nothing to do with the council.

Lie Two: Sheffield discriminated against GM schools.

This is a lie.

These schools were given the money to take part in the City's annual festival as part of their delegated budgets. Sheffield LEA has merely refused to pay for this twice over by giving the schools the money a second time.

Lie Three: Labour councillors in Trafford threaten local grammar schools.

This is a lie.

Labour has repeatedly made it clear that any decision about changing the admission policy of grammar schools will be a matter for local parents - not councillors.

Lie Four: Waltham Forest put 'political correctness' ahead of children

This is a lie.

Nine years ago Waltham Forest decided to switch the day of three school holidays to coincide with important Sikh, Muslim and Hindu religious festivals. The truth is that Mrs Shephard, Dr Mawhinney and Mr Major are scrabbling about in the gutter looking for racist votes.

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