The Tories in Bournemouth: Nursery education to come a step closer

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR is expected to take a significant step today towards enacting his pledge to make nursery education available to all four- year-olds whose parents want it.

Although the Prime Minister is unlikely to put firm costings on the plan between now and the general election, he will herald a substantial expansion of nursery provision in which the private sector is likely to play a big part.

Mr Major is also likely to indicate that he has accepted the basic thrust of a plan put to him earlier this year by the Heritage Department to make some compulsory team sport the norm in most secondary schools.

Meanwhile, Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State or Eduation, yesterday announced a national campaign to improve the way the nation speaks, while calling what amounted to a truce with teachers.

She told the party conference that she was 'accepting in full' Sir Ron Dearing's recommendations for slimming down and simplifying the national curriculum, and that the new curriculum would 'respond to teachers' concerns about overload'. She had also accepted Sir Ron's recommendation that there should be no further change for five years.

The slimmer, more flexible curriculum would, however, 'make no concessions whatsoever on standards and rigour', Mrs Shephard said. For the first time, there will be a requirement for proper attention to be paid to correct English across the curriculum, while the new English curriculum itself will require 'more emphasis on grammar, spelling and punctuation' and on 'written and spoken standard English'.

She said she was already talking to the CBI, television companies and others about a campaign to be launched in the spring. But while it would concentrate on standard English, Mrs Shephard, MP for South West Norfolk, stressed that it would not mean 'driving out regional accents or dialects' even though it might involve children 'becoming bilingual'. Dialect could enrich language, she said, but to make themselves understood Norfolk children needed to know that a 'bishy-bishy barnabee' was a ladybird in standard English.

She said many people regarded an Edinburgh accent as the best spoken English because every consonant was clearly pronounced, but added: 'I am not making any judgements.' The syntactically challenged John Prescott won her praise, however, because 'he always conveys his meaning'.

In her speech, Mrs Shephard said that education needed 'a period of stability and consolidation' to allow the reforms to take root and fully flower. She went out of her way to praise teachers for absorbing 'an enormous amount of change over the last decade', and added that even the National Union of Teachers was 'not all bad'. Teachers were 'frontline troops in the battle against thuggish behaviour and indiscipline in society'.

On nursery provision, Mrs Shephard said she was 'a firm believer in the value of pre-school education', while making it clear it would expand only 'as resources allow'.