Labour Conference: Blunkett prepares blitz on truancy

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The Independent Online
A CRACKDOWN on truancy, with more money spent on facilities to alert parents when a child misses school, will be announced by David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, in Blackpool today.

Some of the money could be used to expand pilot schemes in which parents have been given pagers for teachers to alert them when their children fail to arrive at school.

The minister will also announce a doubling to 1,200 of the number of summer schools for numeracy and literacy, in a speech that will commit the Government to a "return to basics" in the classroom.

Mr Blunkett will tell the conference he makes no apology for wanting children to know their times tables and being able to read properly. "It is children in the most deprived areas who lose out the most," he will say.

The announcement of more summer schools comes after the decision to increase the number of classroom assistants by 20,000 and the number of "superteachers" by 5,000 over the next two years.

The money is part of the pounds 19bn bonus for education secured from the Chancellor in the Government's spending review. Unions have misgivings about increasing the number of trained assistants - many of whom are parents - but it is expected that Mr Blunkett will be given overwhelming support after today's speech.

He is delivering on the commitment to reduce class sizes partly by using assistants to halve the teacher-pupil ratio in some classes, with an emphasis on literacy and numeracy.

Some constituency parties will raise concerns about the conduct of Chris Woodhead, the head of the school inspection service, who was reappointed last week with a 40 per cent increase in his salary.

"The party mood is that if we were serious about sacking hopeless teachers we would have started with Chris Woodhead," said one left-wing Labour MP. "The Labour Party has saddled itself with someone who has come to symbolise the sense in which incompetence rewards itself."

Mr Blunkett will strongly defend the reforms, and foreshadow a Green Paper due in November to drive forward the reforming agenda with a further expansion of performance-related pay for teachers. It will build on the idea of creating more "superteachers", who act as mentors for colleagues in return for higher salaries.