Labour in Blackpool: Government 'wasted pounds 1bn on refining curriculum'

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The Independent Online
SOME pounds 1.1bn has been spent trying to produce a national curriculum for schools, most of it on writing and rewriting the flawed original, Ann Taylor, shadow Secretary of State for Education, told the conference.

The Government itself admits that since 1988, pounds 750m has been spent on introducing the curriculum. But to this Labour has added pounds 360m as the cost of teacher time in tackling the 'bewildering forest of paperwork' from the Department of Education and its agents.

'The Government has wasted our money because it is incapable of listening, incapable of learning. Just think how all that money wasted on getting the curriculum wrong could have been spent on putting things right. Like nursery education,' Mrs Taylor said.

Labour estimates that on a very cautious estimate each of the 436,000 teachers in England and Wales has 'wasted' two days a year so far trying to implement a curriculum which has been constantly reshaped.

The pounds 1.1bn total could have more than halved the pounds 2bn backlog of school repairs or been used to reduce class sizes. One million primary school children are now being taught in classes of more than 30. Delegates endorsed the policy statement 'Opening doors to a learning society', including a commitment to replace the Conservatives' 'prescriptive' syllabus with a framework national curriculum. It would aim at equipping children with 'core skills' but allow teachers and local education authorities more flexibility.

Reminding the conference of Tony Blair's promise that education would be the 'passion' of his government, Mrs Taylor said Labour would set targets to establish nursery education as a right for every three- and four-year-old.

Opt-out schools would be returned to local democratic control and the Funding Agency for Schools scrapped. With it would go its chairman, Sir Christopher Benson, who was paid pounds 33,000 a year for doing two days' work a week, Mrs Taylor said, picking up on the conference theme of attacking 'Tory sleaze'.

Was it just a coincidence, she asked, that Sir Christopher was also the chairman of Sun Alliance which handled the insurance of many grant-maintained schools and which had given nearly pounds 500,000 to the Conservative Party since 1979?

'In place of the quangos, the sleaze and the waste, Labour will rebuild accountability and partnerships in education,' she said.