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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 May 2007, 21:57 GMT 22:57 UK
Brown pledges academy support
Gordon Brown in school
Gordon Brown wants to raise maths standards
Gordon Brown has pledged his continued backing for academies - the independent state schools introduced by the outgoing prime minister, Tony Blair.

Academies are intended as high-investment, high-quality schools for the most deprived areas of England.

But they have been unpopular with teachers' unions who have criticised the involvement of private sponsors.

Later Mr Brown told the CBI he also wanted to improve numeracy rates among primary school leavers.

Academies, which are supported by private sponsors and control their own admissions, have been closely identified with Mr Blair - raising speculation as to how they would survive under a government led by Mr Brown.

Maths standards

But Mr Brown, speaking on BBC Radio 4's World at One, promised that he would "continue to support and finance" the academy and trust school initiatives.

"I was talking to someone only last night and trying to persuade them that it was in their interests and the country's interest to become a sponsor of a city academy," said Mr Brown.

It is unacceptable that we still have 150,000 children leaving primary school who aren't numerate
Gordon Brown

If Mr Brown succeeds in his leadership bid - and with the Conservatives also backing this type of school - it appears that the future of the academy project is assured.

David Willetts, Conservative education spokesperson, says that the academies are "raising academic performance in areas where for over a generation secondary schools have been letting down local children".

But the leader of the National Union of Teachers, Steve Sinnott, repeated his union's call for academies to be abandoned.

One-to-one tuition

The government at present has a target of creating 400 academies - with Mr Blair yesterday urging more private schools to opt in to the state system by adopting academy status.

Mr Brown, in a speech to the Confederation of British Industry on Tuesday evening, also called for improvements in maths standards - proposing one-to-one tuition for primary pupils who are struggling with the subject.

At present, 24% of pupils leave primary school without having achieved the expected level for maths.

Mr Brown told the CBI : "We have made big progress on literacy and numeracy.

"But, as you will tell me, we still have further to go. It is unacceptable that we still have 150,000 children leaving primary school who aren't numerate."

His proposals for improving maths standards would mean 30 to 40 hours per year of intensive maths teaching for about 300,000 primary pupils who were slipping behind.

And he said teenagers in danger of dropping out of school would be mentored alongside work-related training for a day or more a week.

"For those 14 to 16-year-olds most at risk of dropping out, for whom conventional schooling is a turn-off, we need a system of special support that motivates them through work-related training and raises their aspirations through intensive one-to-one mentoring in order to prepare them for further learning and the world of work," he said.

Mr Willetts said that Mr Brown's proposals showed that the government's existing efforts to improve maths standards had not succeeded.

"Ten years ago this government introduced the 'numeracy hour' which was supposed to improve children's maths.

"Gordon Brown's latest initiative is an admission that the numeracy hour hasn't worked. Why should he do any better this time?"

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