New ministers keep their promises

NURSERY VOUCHERS
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The Independent Online
Education ministers began work yesterday on plans to dismantle the Conservatives' nursery voucher scheme as soon as possible. They are studying options for switching money from the scheme, which gives the parents of all four-year-olds pounds 1100 worth of vouchers a year, back to the local authorities.

Work will start shortly on developing partnerships between local authorities, private nurseries and voluntary groups to run childcare and nursery education. Legislation to end the scheme is unnecessary, but there will be a Bill to end the assisted places scheme.

Money from the scheme will be used to reduce class sizes for five- to seven-year-olds. Talks with local authorities on ways of cutting class sizes will begin almost at once, although no money will be available until next April.

Raising standards and improving basic literacy and numeracy will be the centrepiece of the White Paper to be published in June. A Bill in the autumn will also end grant-maintained status, and former opted-out schools will have the choice of becoming foundation schools, voluntary-aided like church schools or returning to council control. Foundation schools will have greater freedom than local authority schools but will have to appoint local authority governors.

However, ministers say there will be consultation with grant-maintained schools in the next few months. The Bill will also lead to parents in areas with grammar schools being able to vote on whether they wish to keep a selective system.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, will meet Sir Ron Dearing, former chairman of the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority, this month about the future shape of higher education. Sir Ron's review is not due until July, so the Queen's Speech will include a general enabling clause foreshadowing changes in student loans and university structure.

Today, ministers will announce plans for fulfilling one of their most ambitious pledges: how to get 250,000 young people off the dole and into either jobs or training using money from a windfall tax on privatised utilities.

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