Blair: State education should match private

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair has pledged to keep education as his top election priority - with a promise to parents to deliver the kind of schooling they could expect in a private school.

The Prime Minister launched a "mini manifesto" on education, promising that every child would receive small-group tuition to tackle their weaknesses and develop their strengths. It also emerged that teenagers would face more tests at 14 as a result of the Government's exams shake-up. Mr Blair said his drive would give parents more power over their children's education.

The small-group sessions could take place out of school hours as part of the Government's promise to keep schools open until 6pm in the evening.

However, teachers' leaders warned that they would come "at a price". Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "A more tailored curriculum, smaller groups and one-to-one teaching would bring greater benefits to pupils." However, he added: "Reducing class sizes requires more teachers, as does one-to-one teaching. Time and resources are needed if the curriculum is to be tailored to each child's needs."

Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, said: "Parents want to hear that teachers will have more time with their child, and the only way to achieve that is to reduce class sizes."

However, he added: "Smaller groups for some children, after hours, possibly with teaching assistants, is simply not a viable alternative to more pupil-teacher interaction for all children."

In launching the document, the Prime Minister said: "People pay taxes to get good, individualised public services - at least as good, or better, than they could get by spending the same money to buy those services directly."

Every pupil would be given extra coaching, with "master-classes" to stretch the brightest pupils in their best subjects, and catch-up lessons to help those who are struggling to keep up in the basics.

Aides pointed to a 48,000 increase in the number of teachers and a 100,000 increase in the number of classroom assistants since Labour came to power in 1997 as evidence of the capacity to deliver on the pledge.

Teenagers will face more tests at 14. Pupils may be tested in every compulsory subject on the timetable as part of an education "health check" showing what they can do as they prepare to decide what subjects to take in the run-up to GCSEs.

A national bank of tests will be set up for teachers to choose from in subjects such as history, geography and modern foreign languages. Three will also be a compulsory test in information technology to be sat alongside maths, English and science, which will be recorded in school league tables. Their parents will then be given a "pupil profile" to help them make their choices.