Mr Byers said:
'There will be no hiding place for underperformance. Parents have a right to know what is expected from their own local authority.'
In a marked shift from previous thinking, Mr Byers told a conference of LEA representatives on the National Literacy Strategy, at the QEII centre in Westminster:
'We have set ambitious targets for the nation's children to reach by the year 2002. This Government believes all children can succeed and that youngsters from all social backgrounds deserve the best possible start in life - the ability to read and write.
'The social cohesion of our nation rests on this. We depend for our future success on ensuring young people get the benefit of a world-class education, which means no-one is excluded from sharing in that success. Social exclusion divides our society, education brings us together.'
'In the past, some educationalists have pleaded poverty as a reason for failure. This is unacceptable. The reality is that for children from poor and deprived backgrounds, education can provide a ladder of opportunity. They will not be left behind in our standards crusade.
'The old approach was to use the traditional indicator of poverty - the percentage of children on free school meals - as an excuse for underachievement. Under our new approach it will be a reason for targeted support.
'Schools themselves are proving that poverty is no excuse. High Greave Junior School in Rotherham and Our Lady of Dolours Primary School in Westminster have more than half their pupils receiving free school meals. And both have already passed our 80% national target. They are a beacon to other schools.
'We want every local education authority in the country to ensure that at least 70% of children in its schools are reaching the standards required for their age in English tests at age 11 by the year 2002.
'For those authorities reaching around 40% at the moment, we know they have a mountain to climb but with our support, we are confident they can do it. For those who are nearly at or who have passed the 80% target, there is no room for complacency. We will be expecting them to reach 90% or higher and will be providing the assistance to do so.
'We have treated every LEA as an individual case and suggested a range we expect it to reach which is challenging, fair and flexible. We are open to suggestions, but we make no apology for asking every LEA to aim high, to look at the top end of that range and consider going beyond it.'
'We know LEAs will rise to the challenge. And we will do what we can to help. Today I can disclose how we expect the£50 million available in the new Standards Fund for literacy to be spent:
--£21 million to update the skills of 190,000 primary school teachers;
--£19 million to provide books for schools;
--£10 million to provide support for teachers in the teaching of reading; and to train primary classroom assistants.
High Greave Junior school is in High Greave Road, Rotherham, South Yorkshire, and can be contacted on 01709 850566. Our Lady of Dolours Primary School is at 19 Cirencester Street, Paddington, London and can be contacted on 0171 286 0698.