We cannot afford to educate only a small elite

We are concerned that nearly 50,000 young people leave compulsory schooling unqualified

SITTING PUBLIC examinations is a stressful time for any young person. As a parent myself I know only too well the emotional highs and lows young people go through as they receive their results.

Our future depends on having well educated young people who can grasp the challenges of a rapidly changing world where more and more employees are expected to be highly skilled, creative and flexible. I passionately believe that everyone has the right to the good all-round education they need to achieve this.

Raising attainment at GCSE and for children at the end of primary school is part of our programme to raise standards across the board. We are setting a range of tough targets to do this. We cannot afford to educate only a small elite while the rest achieve mediocrity or worse.

By concentrating on the basics early on and pushing schools to raise standards, we are opening up new opportunities to far more people. This can mean getting a better job or being able to widen youngsters' horizons. It is wrong to see these two aspects of education as being mutually exclusive. Good schools combine teaching practical skills with a broad education.

Without a good grasp of the basics youngsters are unable to develop their own education and are left isolated from the rest of society. Today's results continue that trend. But we are concerned about evidence over recent years that nearly 50,000 young people a-year leave compulsory schooling with no qualifications at all. We raised the school leaving age this year so that youngsters stayed on to do their exams; this may have affected the small rise in the failure rate. But we intend to go further, with a more work-related curriculum for those who can benefit from it, new targets to reduce the number without qualifications, extra information in performance tables, and more money to tackle social exclusion.

I know from my own experience how badly children can be affected if they lose out. Many youngsters in my constituency face disadvantage that is passed from one generation to another. For example those children in families where parents are long-term unemployed can find it hard to feel motivated because of their feelings of alienation. Some can lose out on the chance of work and too often turn to crime.

I welcome growing success at GCSE. Young people are working harder and achieving more than ever before. In all this we must continue to ensure that we maintain the high standards the GCSE exam has set during the 10 years since it was introduced, and ensure the same rigour for the complementary vocational qualifications now on offer. An exhaustive study in 1996 by the Government's qualifications watchdog and Ofsted found no evidence that standards had fallen over time. I announced last week that a group of independent experts will continue to monitor standards to maintain public confidence.

To transform the education system we have focused on improving basic literacy and numeracy. Measures such as the introduction of a daily literacy and numeracy hour are helping to give children the skills to access other subjects.

But subjects like music and PE remain compulsory in primary schools. In music, for example, we will invest in the subject to help more children to benefit, by setting aside a dedicated pot of money to promote the subject.

Reducing class size remains one of our central commitments, and it will help us to improve standards in the basics. Our pledge that no five- six- or seven-year-old will be in a class of more than 30 will be met ahead of schedule in September 2001. We have made additional resources available to enable those LEAs that want to do so to fulfil that aim by September 2000. The number of five-to-seven-year-olds in classes over 30 will fall for the first time in a decade and 1,500 new primary teachers will be joining schools from the start of the new term.

This autumn we will be announcing our targets for attainment at GCSE. Raising standards is more important than ever before given the ever-increasing economic competition. We need to help provide industry with the skilled, flexible and well educated workforce it needs to compete internationally.

By introducing a culture of target-setting across the education system we are providing a powerful lever with which to raise standards. Setting clear literacy and numeracy targets in primary schools offers practical help to teachers to help raise standards in the classroom. I expect 80 per cent of 11-year-olds to reach the standard level for their age in literacy by 2002, and for 75 per cent of that age group to reach that standard in maths by 2002.

Attainment can be improved, given a realistic target to work to and the necessary resources. We announced in last month's comprehensive spending review that annual spending on education will be almost pounds 10bn more by 2001-02, an average increase of 5.1 per cent in real terms in each of the next three years. We want improvements to be based on offering teachers "something for something", to support them as they drive up standards.

Target-setting will clearly define what needs to be achieved at GCSE level and in other parts of the education system. We are giving schools the resources to achieve these higher standards. Our package of reform will provide the education which young people need and our country requires in the global economy of the new millennium.

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'