Blair promises more investment in education

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There will be more money for education under a Labour government, Tony Blair, the party's leader, promised yesterday.

In a speech at Ruskin College, Oxford, where 20 years ago the former Labour prime minister Lord Callaghan attacked school standards, Mr Blair went farther than before in spelling out his commitment to "steady, consistent investment" in education.

Under the Tories, the costs of economic failure and inequality such as unemployment benefit had gone up. "We want to turn that around, spend less on leaving people unemployed and invest more in education," he said.

But, while there would be growth in education, Labourwould be wise rather than big spenders. "It is wrong to think that this government has not spent a lot of money on education. They have - but on the wrong things." The plan to switch money from assisted places to reducing class sizes was typical of Labour's approach. A Labour secretary of state for education should have a higher status than his predecessors, he said.

Mr Blair added that Labour would not wait until a school was failing before it took action. It would give local authorities the powers to step in.

Announcing plans for heads of successful schools to take over their failing neighbours, he said: "While it will not [always] be appropriate, encouraging ... leadership teams in successful schools to take on responsibility for underperforming schools could provide a lifeline for schools caught in a vicious circle of low expectation, poor management, declining rolls and low morale."

He repeated his pledge that Labour would weed out incompetent teachers.

Local authorities welcomed the speech. But Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers said: "The principle that education authorities should intervene in failing schools is unchallengeable. I wonder why, having had that this power for over 50 years, they fail lamentably to use it."

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, attacked Mr Blair for his continual concentration on schools which were failing, when most were successful.

n Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education, yesterday refused to rule out a "hit squad" of educational experts for the Ridings School, Halifax, which was temporarily closed two months ago after discipline collapsed.