Labour has just completed the biggest consultation exercise on education since the 1944 Education Act. The response from parents, teachers, governors and a whole host of organisations and individuals has been overwhelmingly favourable. Why? Because they share our anger at the Government's low expectations and aspirations for our children and young people and our concern at the grim level of underachievement in Britain.
Labour believes that education is the key, not only to personal fulfilment for the individual but also to economic success for the nation. A new emphasis on education is necessary for the creation of a just and cohesive society. That is why we reject the Government's divisive policies which restrict education as a competitive prize for the few. John Major has boasted that 15 per cent of young people in Britain obtain an education that is as good as anywhere in the world. What a condemnation of 15 years of Conservative government.
Britain has no future as a low- skill low-wage economy and therefore we have no choice but to invest in the education of each and every one of our citizens. Our international competitors have long realised that in the knowledge- based economies of the modern world education forms the basis of national wealth in much the same way as physical resources did in the past. Our polices will prepare Britain for the challenges we face in the 21st century.
We make no apologies for making the provision of nursery education the first priority of a Labour Secretary of State and promising targets for achieving this, not least because Labour councils are already delivering quality nursery education. Children living in a Labour area have three times the chance of a place in nursery education than those in Tory areas.
On grant-maintained schools, the Independent has navely swallowed the DFE line about thousands of GM schools. The facts are that after five years only 3 per cent of schools are grant maintained, the number of ballots has slowed to a trickle and the proportion of 'No' votes has increased dramatically. Centralisation of control is not attractive to parents or schools.
Had you asked us about further and higher education you would have known that we are publishing a consultative document on this later in the year. The issues it will address - expansion, quality assurance and equitable funding - are far more complex than your simplistic leading article suggested.
Labour's education document stresses the importance of homework. The Independent would do well to do its homework more thoroughly in future.
MP for Dewsbury (Lab)
House of Commons
The writer is Shadow Secretary of State for Education.