Blair's schools revolution is hit by failures

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The Independent Online

Labour's impatience to deliver on its education reforms has led to the failure of major initiatives aimed at raising school standards.

An analysis of the first six years of Tony Blair's "education, education, education" government by The Independent concludes that attempts to improve standards have been hampered by an inability to think through some of the major reforms.

The most spectacular failures are:

¿ The introduction of sixth-form reforms in 2000. They were rushed in without new A-levels being tried out in schools, resulting in nearly 2,000 pupils receiving the wrong grades.

¿ A decision to set up a network of education action zones in the inner cities with businesses helping to run schools. The scheme cost more than £220m but had to be abandoned after there was little evidence of innovative work to improve standards.

¿ Last year's crisis over school funding which saw hundreds of teachers being made redundant. Again, civil servants failed to research the impact of changes to the school funding system - resulting in ministers being taken by surprise at the extent of the cuts.

Mr Blair is now facing failure in his top education priority for his second term - major improvements in standards in the first three years of secondary schooling.

The Government looks set to miss its key target of getting 75 per cent of all 14-year-olds up to the required standards in English and maths. This year's results saw the figures for English rise by only 2 percentage points, from 67 to 69 per cent. The picture was brighter in maths, with a rise of four percentage points to 71 per cent.

The figures threaten a repeat of last year's embarrassment, when ambitious targets for primary school tests for 11-year-olds were not met. That was a contributory factor to the resignation of Estelle Morris as Secretary of State for Education.

The biggest mistake on targets was over a call to reduce school exclusions by a third by 2002, from an inherited figure of 13,000. The Government achieved the cut but, in effect, abandoned the policy after teachers complained that unruly pupils were being kept in classrooms.

On truancy, where a similar call for a reduction in the figures by one third was initially made, they have remained stubbornly immobile at 50,000 pupils skipping lessons a day.

In addition, an investigation into the fate of the 18 schools "named and shamed" as the worst in the UK within three weeks of Labour taking office reveals two are still at the bottom of the league tables.

But standards have risen in GCSE and A-levels, where the pass rate has risen from 87.1 per cent to 95.1 per cent; and in reading and maths standards in primaries, despite failing to meet the targets.

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