Blunkett considers targets for schools

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Labour is looking hard at encouraging targets, assessment, and teaching in groups according to ability in primary schools, David Blunkett, its education spokesman, said yesterday.

It is also developing ideas to measure the progress made by children at secondary school, he told the party's local government conference. The speech underlined Mr Blunkett's drive for standards and determination to see and measure improvements in schools.

His advocacy of grouping according to ability in different subjects or "setting" in primaries, which is common practice in secondary schools, runs counter to some "progressive" teaching theory where primary schoolchildren are often taught in all-ability groups.

But Mr Blunkett said he was studying work by Labour authorities in London, Birmingham, Nottingham and Newcastle, where regular assessments of progress, targets for achievement and setting had been used.

Children, he said, "must be literate and numerate if they are to enter secondary school with an equal chance of success". Labour would try to "learn from the best" and "spread good practice to the rest".

He also proposed expanding and strengthening Ofsted, the school inspection service, so it no longer merely highlighted good and bad practice but intervened where schools were failing. It needed a role "where advice and support at a local level helps schools recover rather than allowing them to sink into closure".

Labour councillors were urged to recognise that their relationship with schools had changed for good and that with local management of schools (LMS), the partnership "must be flexible, so schools can choose those services which they can provide themselves and those which would be better offered by the local education authority".

All schools now had substantial budgetary delegation and control over day-to-day decision-making, a situation he indicated would not be changed. Labour was planning to "build on the experience of LMS" while attempting to enhance accountability.