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Education secretary Gillian Shephard, addressing the Conservative party conference in today, said: ...
Education secretary Gillian Shephard, addressing the Conservative party conference in today, said:

'Today's debate has been about choice, opportunity and success. The golden thread running through it all, has been your concern for the future - the future of our young people, our children and our grandchildren. About achieving, about independence and success about fulfilling potential, about ambitions and aspirations. These are Conservative words and they are Conservative principles - shared by millions of parents, governors and teachers.

'Since 1979 these principles have guided our education policies - focused on raising standards and lifting aspirations; because we Conservatives understand that education is the ladder of opportunity by which people achieve independence and success. Our whole strategy, now and in the future, is to raise standards. For it is high standards of education which enable ambitions to be realised and aspirations fulfilled.

'And how have we built this strategy? We have made the education system more transparent - so that parents, the wider community and the taxpayer know what is going on in our schools - through testing, inspections, performance tables.

'We have made it more accountable so that heads and governors are answerable for the standards of their schools.

'We have made it more independent, spectacularly through Grant-Maintained schools, to develop their own special ethos.

'By the way did you notice that of the top 32 schools identified by OFSTED, 14 were GM.

'And through the rich diversity of schools we have introduced we have made it more competitive.

'And given it more choice - a vital element in driving up standards.

'Transparency, Accountability, Independence, Competition, Diversity and Choice - all focused on raising standards.

'The motion, so ably moved by Nicholas Wood-Dow, began with our nursery voucher initiative, now fully in place in Kensington & Chelsea, Norfolk, Wandsworth & Westminster - the local authorities enlightened enough to pioneer the scheme. It will go nationwide next April, when the parent of every 4 year-old in the land will get a voucher for three terms of good quality pre-school education.

'The voucher puts the choice - and the power - where it truly belongs - in the hands of the parents - of all parents.

'How Labour and the Liberal/Democrats hate the vouchers. Why? - because those parties put the interests of local authorities and institutions above those of parents. The very idea that parents might take the decisions - instead of councils or administrators, is anathema to them.

'During the past year Labour have learned the meaning of choice - well - choice for their front-bench.

'They have learned to value grant maintained schools - grant-maintained schools for Tony Blair They have grasped the point of grammar schools - grammar schools for Harriet Harman.

'They have seen the merit of selection - selection for Peter Kilfoyle.

And as for David Blunkett his contribution has been to learn to pronounce the word diversity. He's always saying it but none of them want it - or choice or selection or grammar or grant maintained schools for all Britain's children. For under Labour, there would be just one kind of school. New Labour - but the same old Socialist hypocrisy and double standards.

You, as parents , have asked today for more transparency, more accountability, more diversity, more choice - for more grant maintained schools, - for selection, for grammar schools.

'Within the next few weeks I shall be introducing a bill into the House of Commons to continue the pursuit of higher standards. The bill will allow for all schools to select more pupils by ability or aptitude without central approval.

It will encourage more grammar schools - 'in response to parental demand', - with the right of appeal against a hostile LEA - it will allow the Funding Agency for Schools to set up new grammar schools - if that is what parents want. We may even see a grammar school in every town.

It will allow GM schools to expand and to set up nurseries or 6th forms or boarding provision - without central approval.

It will encourage the growth of more Specialist Schools - We already have nearly 200 from a standing start of just 2 years ago.

Schools like the excellent Dartford Language College where in addition to the full national Curriculum pupils can learn French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, Chinese, Russian, Punjabi and Gujerati. What a start in life.

Like the start the Assisted Places Scheme gives to bright children from less well-off homes. This year we have doubled the number of Assisted Places to 68,000. And the bill will extend the scheme to primary schools.

A recent MORI poll showed that more than half of Labour voters approve of Assisted Places, but last week Tony Blair reaffirmed Labour's intention to abolish them.

New Labour - old class envy - so strong that it rides roughshod over the aspirations of even its own people - aspirations that only we Conservatives understand.

We have a whole range of measures to help all schools improve. When they cannot they must go. Like the Hackney Downs School where spending on each pupil was more than twice the national average; and yet standards were so deplorably low that we had to close the school.

Labour now claim to support higher standards but look at what they do. Who is in charge of Hackney LEA, which ran Hackney Downs School - why Labour of course? Small wonder that Labour have opposed consistently since 1979 all our measures to show how schools are performing - Tests, Inspections and Performance Tables. For what do they show? Which are the 10 worst performing LEAs for GCSE results? Sandwell - who's in power - Labour Liverpool - Labour Hackney - Labour Newham - Labour Lambeth - Now under no overall control after many years of Labour.

Manchester - Labour Southwark - Labour Tower Hamlets - Labour Knowsley - Labour And, last and worst of all - Islington - Labour.

And 11 year-old test results for 1995 - show the same pattern - 9 out of 10 of the bottom LEAs were Labour. If Tony Blair is as concerned about education as he now proclaims, you would have thought that he might have picked up the phone to the Labour Leader of Islington to ask what he was going to do about these terrible results. But why should they worry Mr Blair? He may live in Islington but, thanks to Conservative policies, he does not have to use its schools.

And why should Harriet Harman care? She merely represents Southwark - her children do not have to attend its schools David Blunkett does at least talk about Labour LEAs - he says the best should act as a model for the rest. He names the best - Birmingham. Birmingham - which was 9th from the bottom in English and 4th from the bottom in Maths in last year's test results. Some model of excellence! This is Labour in power. Let us vow today that the standards of Islington and Southwark shall not become the standards of Britain - because that is what would happen under a Labour Government. While Labour talk about these things we will continue to take action to raise standards.

Our new Bill will - Ask OFSTED to inspect LEAs, and to require schools to set targets for their own improvement.

And we will bring in a national curriculum for initial teacher training - So that every new teacher learns the methods that really work for reading, writing and arithmetic - on which all other skills are founded.

And what do Labour offer? A 3 week summer camp for illiterate 10 year-olds - to put right years of neglect by Labour LEAs.

But no teacher can teach in an unruly atmosphere. So the forthcoming Bill will also - allow schools to exclude pupils for longer while ensuring that LEAs make proper arrangements for those pupils - will allow home/school agreements to be a condition for admission - and bring back detention The ambitions of the many must not be thwarted by the blatant hooliganism of the few.

Discipline, standards, opportunities never have young people had so many opportunities, so many different routes to qualifications and skills for a competitive future: a future which will demand confidence with learning, readiness to change, to train and retrain - to cope with the labour market of the 21st century.

This summer 35,000 young people were enrolled on Modern Apprenticeships, many in engineering and manufacturing. We shall double that number within the next year.

In December I will publish a white paper setting out our future plans for all our young people.

The merged department has ensured that all our post-16 qualifications will be more rigorous. Our training and enterprise councils, schools and colleges will develop national traineeships, building on modern aspprenticeships and will finally nail the lie that training is for other peoples' children.

All 14-16 year olds will have more opportunities to experience the world of work. Yesterday's failures will find unexpected achievements, locking them into learning.

Disaffectedyoung people will have more chances to get the basic skills right, recover their confidence and go on to greater things.

We will introduce learning credits to help young people make even better choices of what and where to study.

And this is vital work. We cannot afford failures for the sake of individuals and for the sake of the nation.

One in 3 of our young people now goes to university - compared with 1 in 8 when we came to power in 1979.

We have the highest graduation rate in Europe. This is a great achievement, but standards must be of the highest. The National Committee into higher education will ensure that our system is appropriate for the challenges of the new century.

And what are Mr. Blunkett's thoughts on these matters? He will tax learning, taking child benefit from 16 & 17 year-olds.

We are not to be told how much you have to earn before you lose your benefit nor what they mean by rich? But one thing is certain - whenever they have set out to tax the rich they have crippled the poor, not to mention the middle classes.

Education is not only for the young. Over half the students in both further and higher education are over 25.

For learning enriches the individual - and it pays - those who have skills and update them - are likely to earn a good living and to be employed throughout their lifetime.

In Europe it is Britain that has the lowest rate of unemployment of any major country. The highest percentage of people in work - the lowest proportion of temporary workers - the highest takehome pay - the lowest labour costs.

No wonder that we attract more inward investment, more jobs than any other EU country because of our flexible and deregulated Labour Market, free from the burdens of the Social Chapter.

All this would be lost under Labour.

This government believes in helping all the people - including those out of work. Nearly 85,000 people are now on our training programmes - programmes organised through the TECs and LECs. Last year the Employment Service found jobs for nearly 2 million. No wonder it is the envy of Europe.

And we believe in helping people to help themselves. This week the Job Seeker's Allowance replaced Unemployment Benefit and Income Support - treating unemployed people with the dignity they deserve - not as passive recipients of benefit but as active job seekers.

Our Project Work pilots in Hull, Medway and Maidstone, give three months intensive jobsearch help to people who have been out of work for more than two years. Those still without a job are then required to do work experience for a further three months, or risk losing benefit. And what do we find? Well the first results are impressive.

Many people have with the extra help given, found a job; over 20 per cent more have left the unemployment register in the pilot areas compared with those outside.

Some have been reluctant to start with. But they have learned that active job search and purposeful activity will help them back to work. And some are just reluctant. When faced with compulsory work-experience they have left the unemployment register. Maybe they are too busy.

Money for benefit doesn't grow on trees. It comes from the work and taxes of all of us. It is only right that we ask for something in return.

These schemes make sense. They are working.

And this afternoon I am announcing their extension to include up to 100,000 unemployed people in every region of the country. More and more people will be helped back to work.

We shall pilot different approaches, involving private sector employers and giving intensive literacy and numeracy help.

The scheme works. Britain works. Look at what we have done for 52 per cent of the population - an important voting element - I mean of course women.

We have the lowest percentage of women unemployed in Europe. Many working women are helped by our Out of School Childcare Scheme, which has created more than 71,500 childcare places in the last 3 years.

Conservative policy is all about choice - choice of school, choice of training, choice of career, choice of job.

These choices are only available to skilled, well-qualified people, in a flexible labour market, free from the shackles of local government tyranny or European compulsion.

It is only the Conservatives who provide this choice - just look at the alternatives.

What of the Liberal/Democrats. Well they would abolish nursery vouchers, tests, performance tables, GM schools, assisted places and the daily act of worship - and they would put your taxes up! Less choice, less opportunity, and you pay more.

And what of Labour? They talk a lot but they don't say much. Tony Blair voices his concern for educational standards - yet Labour in Parliament have consistently opposed every measure to raise standards for 17 years.

Labour profess concern for the unemployed. Yet they would destroy over a million jobs with their National Minimum Wage and even more by burdening us with the European Social Chapter.

And Labour in the local authorities preside, as we have seen, over the worst standards in the land.

Mr. Blunkett sought to claim one of our policies the other day, using that tired old metaphor that we had stolen Labour's clothes.

But Labour have no clothes - Underneath the robes of office in Tower Hamlets and Islington, in Manchester and Liverpool, are the wandering minstrels of the Labour Party 'things of shreds and patches', desperately trying to peddle their tunes to Middle England.

What a 'happy band of Brothers'. Would you give these people charge of your children's future? Of course not.

This country and her children are too important to hand over to the confusion, the hypocrisy and the double standards which are the hallmarks of New Labour.

We have transformed education, training and employment since 1979. Because we know that education is the basis for individual success and national prosperity. No less than the future of Britain is at stake. That is why this coming election is so important. It is the task of Conservatives to make sure that the ambitions and aspirations of all Britain can be fulfilled. It must be a Conservative Government which leads this country into the next century.

We must win and with John Major at the helm, win we will.'

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