Letter: Labour crusade to raise standards in schools

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your news reports and analysis on Wednesday (6 December) suggest that the proposals in Labour's paper on education, Excellence for Everyone, are Tory ideas. Far from it. Our proposals build on the research carried out by those in the school improvement movement, described in your pages on Tuesday by Michael Barber ("Today's lesson: excellence"), and on the experience of schools and Labour local authorities across the country.

The major difference between Labour and the Tories is not an argument about individual schemes. Having proposed our structural reforms in July, we have moved on to the central theme of raising standards in our schools.

The leaked memo from Gillian Shephard's presentation to the Cabinet in September revealed that she concedes that structures are less important than standards. Yet the only legislative proposals we had this year - in an education system for 7 million pupils - were plans to extend assisted places (adding around 3,000 extra pupils), compulsory opting out for church schools (opposed by the bishops), the paper promise of nursery vouchers (rejected by several Tory councils) and a scheme to get the banks to take on student debt (already spurned by the Midland).

I used the language of a crusade on Wednesday because that is what we need when our pupils perform just half as well as those in Germany, Japan and France. We are talking about equipping our nation for the challenges of a new century and a global economy. That is a task that this government has ignored in an effort to score petty party points on structures.

Because we recognise the urgency of the proposals, we will announce a series of pilot Labour authorities which will get our proposals under way - in partnership with schools, teachers, parents and governors - before the Government finally calls a general election. The Tories may be satisfied with 35th place in the world education league. Labour certainly is not.

Yours faithfully,

David Blunkett

MP for Sheffield (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

6 December

The writer is shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment.

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