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Page last updated at 18:37 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

School interviews test education spokesmen

School Reporters have been quizzing figures from the main political parties on issues ranging from education funding and exams to school meals and superpowers.

Education Secretary Ed Balls welcomed four Year Eight pupils from Wales High School, Sheffield, to the Department for Children, Schools and Families in London for his interview.

Mr Balls defended the scrapping of year nine Sats and argued against rival Conservative Party proposals for a freer curriculum.

But the education secretary acknowledged a particularly "good question" when he was asked to respond to criticism of learning standards in immigration centres.

'Every child'

"We have got a responsibility to every child who is here in our country and that includes children who may be not British citizens, and where their mums and dads may be still having an argument or legal issues around what their immigration status is," Mr Balls said.

"We made a change a year ago to say that the people that are running the immigration centres have got to think about the wellbeing, the welfare of children, how children are doing and to make sure they get not just the right healthcare and food to eat and that they are safe - but also that they have got a chance to learn."

If you have got great teachers ... the best thing that politicians can do is give them support and get out of the way

Michael Gove
Conservative Party

But Mr Balls admitted: "We need to keep pushing on that."

The key change needed in the education system was to "get politicians out of the way" of what schools were doing, said Conservative shadow education secretary Michael Gove.

Interviewed by Michael and Tom from St Philip Howard Catholic High School, in Bognor Regis, West Sussex, Mr Gove argued that the national curriculum should give more freedom to successful schools to decide what went on in their classrooms.

He said: "The single most important thing in education is the quality of people who are teaching.

"If you have got great teachers, if you have got people who are highly qualified, if you have got people who have got a real commitment to children and young people, the best thing that politicians can do is give them support and get out of the way."

Early learning

Pupils from Preston School, in Yeovil, Somerset, grilled Liberal Democrat education spokesman David Laws.

With the Lib Dems promising an extra £2.5bn funding for schools, the children asked which stage of the education system - from pre-primary to college and university - was the highest priority.

If you get good English and good maths and you are interested in education really early on, you will tend to do really well
David Laws
Liberal Democrats

Mr Laws said: "All of the evidence from all of the people that look at education and trying to help young people, is that you have got to get people with good skills in English and maths and other subjects early on.

"The longer things go on and the older you get, the less likely if you have problems that you are suddenly going to overcome them; lots of people do, and we shouldn't give up on people, but getting the education right early is really, really important."

He added: "Although we want to see the budgets for education rise in general there is probably a good argument for spending our money as early as possible, because if you get good English and good maths and you are interested in education really early on, you will tend to do really well.

"But if you don't get the right skills early it's much more difficult later on, much more difficult."

Social skills

Scotland's Deputy Education Secretary Keith Brown was forced to defend the new Curriculum for Excellence, under questioning from a group of students from Forfar Academy, in Angus.

He stressed benefits including more multi-disciplinary learning, and increased attention on pupils' social skills.

Students question Scotland's Deputy Education Secretary

"The idea of socialising, having to be quiet while somebody else is speaking, respecting other people, you get many of those kind of social skills right from primary school," said the Scottish National Party MSP.

"And they are really important if you want to prosper in life, get on and get a good job and be prosperous and happy."

But he added: "Social skills are important and we think that the Curriculum for Excellence will help us nurture those skills, but it won't be to the detriment of academic study."

In Wales, Assembly Members were questioned by pupils from four schools: Bishopston Comprehensive School, Ysgol Gyfun Gwyr and Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Bryn Tawe, all in Swansea; and Risca Comprehensive School, Newport.

Students question Welsh Assembly Members

Asked about cuts in spending on education Plaid Cymru's Helen Mary Jones said it wasn't clear that less was being spent, but she did admit there were concerns over whether money was being delivered "where it's supposed to go".

"That is why the new minister for education has actually announced that he is going to do a big review of this, to find out how it can be ... that the money is coming out of the Assembly but it doesn't necessarily get into the schools."

'60 years behind'

Students from Assumption Grammar School, Belfast, and Magherafelt High School, Londonderry, paid a visit to the Northern Ireland Assembly home of Stormont.

They raised the issue of selection in schools with Ulster Unionist Party education spokesman Basil McCrea, who suggested that different types of schools should tap into students' different interests and abilities.

"Not everybody is the same - some people are more interested in sport, some people are more interested in academic studies, some people want a general education and some want specialist," Mr McCrea said.

School Reporters talked to politicians at Stormont in Northern Ireland

"So the idea is, if we can afford it, to have a range of schools that offer different styles of education."

But he warned there was always a danger of the most successful schools being oversubscribed.

Asked about the need to modernise the education system, Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly suggested schools in Northern Ireland were "perhaps 60 years behind".

"That doesn't mean to say that we don't have an education system which produces people who become great - we do," he said.

"But it does discriminate against the majority of people in the way it sort of stamps people as a failure when they are 11 years of age. We need that overhauled."

Mr Kelly said the aim was to bring in a schools system that offered young people the "widest range" of course choices possible.


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