Schools policy is overhauled

Education
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The Independent Online
The Independent invited ministers to describe their first 100 days in office. David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, and George Robertson, the Secretary of State for Defence, were the only two ministers to respond.

Since the election, we have made enormous strides in implementation of both education and employment policy.

I will limit myself to highlighting four key areas where we have already made significant progress.

First, standards in schools.

In July, we published the Government's first White Paper, Excellence in Schools. It sets out plans for the most fundamental overhaul of education since 1944. At its heart is the drive to improve standards in our schools.

Hand in hand with this we have:

t Established the "standards and effectiveness unit" under Professor Michael Barber.

t Established a "national standards task force" under my chairmanship.

t Set up a pilot project of 50 summer literacy schools.

t Set new national targets in literacy and numeracy for 11-year-olds.

t Taken action on 18 failing schools.

Second, on provision for pre-school children, and limits on class sizes for five-, six-, and seven-year-olds.

We have ended the wasteful nursery vouchers scheme. Instead local education authorities (LEAs), in partnership with other providers, will give children and parents the widest possible choice of pre-school opportunity.

We are discussing with LEAs the best way of implementing our pledge on class sizes by using the funds freed up from bringing to an end the assisted- places scheme.

Third, action on employment.

In his budget, Gordon Brown (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) announced funding from the windfall levy for the "new deal" for 18- to 25-year-olds and the long-term unemployed.

So far, we have put in place the "new deal task force" headed by Sir Peter Davis - a new advisory group involving the voluntary sector and environmental and local employer groups - and agreed the broad design of the initiative. Extensive consultation has begun. The programme will begin in January.

Fourth, higher education.

In higher education we have grasped the nettle and taken the first steps to put the system on a sound footing which will allow increased access, quality an equity.

This is just a taste of the foundation laid for the initiatives of the future.

David Blunkett

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