School partnerships move to boost standards

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The Independent Online

Successful schools will be teamed up with failing ones in an effort to boost standards under plans announced today.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls told the Labour Conference the National Challenge Trusts would be given up to £1 million to "get the best teaching and support".

He also announced a new statutory body to negotiate "fair and flexible" pay deals for school dinner ladies, cleaners and teaching assistants.

The first three National Challenge Trusts announced today are:

* Chase High, Southend, which will be partnered with King John School

* Risedale School in North Yorkshire, which will be merged with high performing Northallerton College

* David Lister School in Hull, where the council is developing plans with a range of partners.

The trusts are part of the National Challenge programme which targets schools failing to reach a 30% target for pupils achieving five GCSEs grade A* to C including maths and English.

Mr Balls said: "It is because we believe every child can succeed that our National Challenge programme is investing £400 million so that every local school can be a good school.

"That's why today our first National Challenge Trusts will give each school up to £1 million so that schools can collaborate together to drive up standards and get the best teaching and support."

The statutory pay and conditions body for the "children's workforce" will set the terms and conditions for school support staff.

Mr Balls said: "Teaching assistants, dinner ladies, caretakers, cleaners, all of the support staff, they are vital to our schools."

The Schools Secretary is one of Gordon Brown's key Cabinet allies and he made a plea for Labour unity during the "difficult times" facing the party.

Mr Balls, who represents the rock solid Labour seat of Normanton, West Yorkshire, warned of the damage infighting would do in the party's heartlands.

He said: "These are difficult times for the economy and for our party.

"But if our history teaches us anything, it teaches us this: stay united, stick to our mission and take the fight to the Tories."

He added: "Resolute, united, determined, let us stick to the course and let us complete the job."

The GMB union, which represents non-teaching staff in schools, welcomed the Government's announcement of a separate negotiating body for hundreds of thousands of school assistants, clerical and admin staff.

National officer Brian Strutton said his members would be "delighted" by the news that their pay and conditions will now be negotiated by a separate body.

Mr Strutton, who will be on the negotiating body, said: "Having a statutory body to introduce a consistent and fair pay and conditions framework for school support staff will be good for workers and directly contribute to better education."

Philip Parkin, general secretary of Voice, the union for education professionals, welcomed action to ensure teachers receive their guaranteed planning, preparation and assessment time.

He said "tough action" was needed to "stop the rules being flouted".

Mr Parkin added: "However, the Government must not forget teachers' fellow professionals - teaching assistants. Many are being abused by schools that require them to undertake tasks, such as cover, that are outside their job description and against Government guidance.

"TAs and other support staff will also be pleased to hear news of progress on the long-awaited and seemingly delayed support staff negotiating committee. It is vital that the new committee is truly independent and representative of all support staff in schools."

Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "No one can do anything other than welcome the Government's commitment to tackling bullying and helping children with disabilities. Nor can the benefits of one-to-one tuition be anything other than celebrated.

"That is why it is extraordinary that Ed Balls should spoil his overall commitment to education by accelerating the expansion of the Academies programme, a fundamentally divisive move which is breaking up the local community of schools and creating disputes in community after community."

Later Skills Secretary John Denham said the Government could boost apprenticeships in the public sector by examining all its departmental procurement contracts.

Mr Denham said it was the Government's duty to make sure taxpayer cash was well spent and he wanted to see the buying power of Government "tackle the challenges of our time".

He also paid tribute to Gordon Brown, declaring: "No one has a deeper belief in the talents of the British people, or has done more to set it free than our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown."

Mr Denham said action taken by Labour meant Britain could come through turbulent economic times.

He went on: "It is our duty to make sure every taxpayer's pound works as hard for the country as they first worked to earn it.

"So when we build a great FE college, let's not just build a building. Let's make sure we train the people who build the building.

"And let's look at every government contract to see where we can get training and apprenticeships.

"So let's make sure that the buying power of every government department buys the new products that are made by the new companies, that use the new science, that tackle the challenges of our time."

Mr Denham also attacked the Tories adding they wanted to cut £1 billion a year from people learning at work. He said the Government had "fixed the roof" on skills, universities and investment in science.

He added: "The Tories can try to steal our language, but they will never share our values. And that's why we must win.

"And that's why we will win."