Personalised 'learning accounts', with individuals controlling the development of their adult education, would also be examined, Mr Blair, shadow Home Secretary and leadership front-runner, promised.
His address to Manchester College of Arts and Technology reaffirmed education as the heart of the national renewal delivered by a future Labour government. 'It is the ultimate individual and public good,' he said.
One way to keep children and teachers 'at the cutting edge' was to open schools up to outside expertise. Mr Blair made clear that this would not be Labour's version of the 'mums' army' of unqualified teachers once proposed by John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, but a network of associates under the direction of teachers.
Initiatives such as Ford's Industrialists in Residence and the Pimlico scheme of using undergraduates to explain engineering, had shown associates could be an 'enormous resource' in the classroom while introducing positive role models such as female industrialists or speakers of minority languages.
The idea was pioneered by the Institute of Public Policy Research, the left of centre think tank, two years ago.
Mr Blair said it was intolerable that some children fell so far behind in the first few years of schooling that they could never catch up. 'These children need early and intensive attention to boost reading and writing.'
He said: 'We know from academic research and our own eyes and ears what makes a successful school: strong leadership from the head; clear values and expectations about performance; behaviour and discipline; continuing staff and curriculum review; commitment to staff training; and effective parental information and input.'
Mr Blair pledged to provide universal pre-school education 'within as short a timescale as possible' for all parents who wanted it, but emphasised that his speech was a statement of 'aims and priorities', not specific spending proposals.
The 1960s definition of 'comprehensive' dwelled too much on admission. 'It did not provide comprehensive assessment; it did not come to terms with the diversity and flexibility of provision needed. We must reaffirm the principle . . . as a promise to offer education for all the talents, throughout life, a ladder of opportunity stretching from cradle to grave.'
The Tories had tried to modernise by looking backwards - to market competition, selective schools and private inspections, Mr Blair said. The reading age of the average seven-year-old had fallen by six months since 1987, while a quarter of secondary school classes were taught by teachers not qualified in the subject.Reuse content