Schools will provide extra lessons to raise pupils' performance

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The Independent Online

Children in state schools will get extra lessons in small groups to stretch the brightest and help struggling pupils to catch up, the Government will announce today.

Children in state schools will get extra lessons in small groups to stretch the brightest and help struggling pupils to catch up, the Government will announce today.

The move will form part of an education "mini-manifesto" to be unveiled by Tony Blair and Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Education, and is the first in a series of documents that will trail the new policies to be included in Labour's general election manifesto.

Ministers want to extend one of the strengths of private schools - pupils being taught in small groups - to the state sector. Most of the extra lessons will be after traditional school hours and will dovetail with Labour's goal for schools to open from 8am to 6pm to help working parents.

The switch to more "personalised tuition" reflects Mr Blair's desire to turn a "monolithic" state sector into services tailored to individual needs. It is designed to raise standards overall by giving extra help to pupils having difficulties in specific subjects while ensuring that the most talented children are not held back.

Parents will be promised more dialogue with schools, including talks on whether their children need top-up lessons. Mr Blair will say today: "If re-elected for a third term, we will carry through a fundamental system-wide change: to put 'parent power' at the heart of the education system, giving all parents - not just a minority as in the past - the choices and opportunities needed for their children to succeed and stay on beyond the age of 16 in the sixth form, apprenticeship or training.

"In education, as in health and the other public services, we want the user to drive the system. The aim: excellence for all, not just for some. This critical advance to a parent-driven system is now possible, thanks to our systematic investment in reform and capacity since 1997."

The mini-manifestos are designed to switch the spotlight on to public services, which Labour sees as its strong ground, and away from issues such as immigration on which the Tories have made the running. Labour also wants to dispel the idea that it has run out of fresh ideas.

Mr Blair and Gordon Brown will highlight public services and the economy when they raise the pre-election temperature in speeches to the Scottish Labour Party conference, starting tomorrow. Other blueprints in coming weeks will include health and law and order.

Today's document will also promise an expansion of the Sure Start scheme to create 3,500 children's centres; three-year budgets for schools with every school having a guaranteed "per pupil" increase each year; every school able to become a specialist school; all secondary schools to own their own land and buildings; 200 city academies by 2010; every secondary school brought up to date over the next 15 years and more powers for headteachers to deal with disruptive pupils.

In his foreword to the report, Mr Blair will say: "My ambition is for people to say: 'I wish I was at school now'."

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