Education pledges boost Johnson leadership hopes

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Indy Politics

Coursework for GCSE mathematics is to be axed to stop internet cheating, the Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, said yesterday in a series of announcements that enhanced his chances in the Labour leadership race. All other GCSE coursework wouldbe supervised.

"We have one of the most rigorous exam systems in the world ­ we cannot have it undermined by the few who cheat by copying from the internet," he said.

Mr Johnson also underlined his commitment to 60,000 children in local authority homes or foster care by announcing changes to put them at the head of the queue for the best schools. They will also get £100 a year in the Child Trust Fund with a £2,000 bursary to help university studies.

While Mr Johnson refused to be drawn on speculation that he could challenge Gordon Brown for the leadership, his speech to the Labour Party conference was a bid for the votes of the rank and file.

Mr Johnson also warned public schools they would have to throw open their doors if they were to keep their charitable status. He told them it would not be enough merely to offer a stage to a local amateur dramatic society.

"Some private schools own excellent facilities from science labs to playing fields that are often underused. I want these schools to open their gates to all children in the community ­ surely this is what their charitable status is for," he said.

A survey of teachers in 2004 found they believed coursework penalised working-class boys. Many of the 1,707 National Union of Teachers members asked said it was difficult to tell if the work had been downloaded from the internet.

Gordon Brown also made education his priority in his keynote speech on Monday, repeating his Budget pledge to raise annual funding for state school pupils to £8,000 a head.

Mr Johnson told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that Mr Blair's much-praised speech to conference in Manchester was not a "farewell concert".

"Old blue eyes will be back ­ he's got gigs in Downing Street and in the Palace of Westminster, and a very important agenda that he set out about pursuing peace in the Middle East," he said.