Labour may tax child benefit

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Education Editor

Labour is to consider proposals to tax child benefit to pay for education vouchers and to compel parents to attend school to discuss their child's education.

David Blunkett, the party's education spokesman, promised to look at the plans put forward yesterday by Professor Michael Barber, an adviser both to Labour and the Government.

Professor Barber, of London University's Institute of Education, told the North of England education conference that child benefit should be taxed to provide pounds 200 a year in education vouchers for the poorest 4 million four- to 18 year-olds.

The vouchers, which would be handed out at compulsory parents' evenings, would have to be used for books, computer software, extra tuition, or time at a homework centre.

Professor Barber, whose remarks provoked the anger of parents and teachers, said that parents should be given a statutory duty to attend their child's school every six months.

Mr Blunkett said: "It is vital to use every means feasible to involve parents in their children's education. We proposed home-school contracts and plans for new homework guidelines last year. Michael's other ideas are interesting and we will look further at them."

But Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, ruled out a tax on child benefit to pay for school vouchers. She said she liked the professor's strong emphasis on the importance of parental involve- ment, but added: "I think taxing child benefit is an idea that he will have to sell rather hard."

And Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations, said that most parents were already doing what Professor Barber wants.