Labour's policy on education is put into action

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The Independent Online

Education Editor

Labour yesterday announced that it is to start implementing its education policy immediately instead of waiting until after the general election.

David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, revealed the names of 26 local authorities that have agreed to begin pilot-testing Labour's plans to raise standards.

He used the recent poor 11-year-olds' test results and this week's critical report from the chief inspector of schools to argue that, after 17 years of Conservative rule, Britain could not afford to wait before tackling low standards.

The authorities, which include shire counties as well as big cities, will have to agree to raise standards in at least two out of six ways approved by Labour.These include controversial proposals such as testing pupils at five and promising quick action to sack heads and teachers in failing schools.

Present legislation will limit the party's plans to give bad schools a fresh start. Mr Blunkett believes new legislation may be needed before such schools can be closed and reopened under new management on the same site.

Mr Blunkett told Labour's local government conference in Birmingham: "Today we announce a group of pace-setters in raising educational standards, which will make a real start on improving standards now. We cannot afford to wait until John Major finally calls an election for this task to begin."

Mr Blunkett accused Mr Major of stealing Labour's ideas. "This week it was targets for primary schools, a few weeks ago it was home-school contracts. They also took our proposals for a headteacher qualification, value-added performance tables and baseline assessment."

Local authorities in the pilot must choose two of the six strategies, which include promoting home-school contracts, setting targets for test and exam results and attendance and giving parents information about the "value added" to their child's education by each school.

Some authorities, such as Birmingham, are already pioneering Labour's plans. Schools are asked to improve on their previous best performance by setting targets in agreement with the local authority. The city is also assessing five-year-olds whose progress is then monitored every two years throughout primary school.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Employment said: "A great amount of work is being done in all areas to ensure that standards remain at the heart of the Government's policy." She mentioned inspection, measures to deal with failing schools, league tables and new qualifications for headteachers.

All the local authorities taking part are run by Labour, apart from Suffolk which is controlled by Labour and the Liberal Democrats. They are: Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Croydon, Doncaster, Derbyshire, East Renfrewshire, Flintshire, Greenwich, Kirklees, Leeds, Lewisham, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Newham, Newport, Nottinghamshire, Redcar and Cleveland, Salford, Sheffield, Shropshire, Southwark, Staffordshire and York.