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Monday, 12 February, 2001, 12:06 GMT
Blair's vision for secondary education
tony blair
Tony Blair: Good head teachers are vital
Tony Blair has set out his vision for greater diversity in England's secondary schooling, arguing that improving the standard of education is vital to the country's economic future.

Addressing head teachers and other educationists at Downing Street, Mr Blair said the challenge was to bring about "a step change" in schools.

He said the process had begun with the success of the literacy and numeracy strategies in primary schools.

The lowest performing primary in national curriculum tests was now doing better than the average four years ago, he said.

The task now was to extend the process into secondary schools, where fewer than half of all pupils were getting five good GCSEs and the number getting no qualifications remained "unacceptably high".

'Diversity is the future'

The introduction of comprehensive education had seen "inclusion" becoming an end in itself, rather than a means to identify and develop the talents of each pupil, he said.

"We want to make diversity not the exception but indeed the hallmark of secondary education in the future."

Parents should know that their children were going to be educated to the best of their ability wherever they were, with excellence for all "pursued with a true sense of mission and purpose".

There were four key aspects to this:

  • Diversity: "We intend to change the law to allow external sponsors ... to play a far greater role in the management of schools against demanding performance contracts," he said.

    If sponsors - business or educational or voluntary - wanted to take over a failing school, or if a successful school wanted to have outside partners - that would be encouraged.

    There would be far more specialists schools, city academies, and schools sponsored by churches and other faith groups.

  • Standards: Literacy and numeracy drives adapted for 11 to 14 year olds
  • Qualifications: New vocational GCSE exams and greater curriculum flexibility, with more challenging academic routes including acceleration to GCSE for the more able.
  • Autonomy: Giving head teachers greater management freedom provided they demonstrate success.
Underpinning these would be more investment in teachers, buildings and information technology and resources generally.

Mr Blair renewed his pledge to increase the proportion of the national income devoted to education over the lifetime of the next parliament.

Economic importance

He said that running a school was like running any other organisation in the sense that it had to have a distinctive sense of mission, values and ethos to which everyone could sign up.

"The aim, therefore, is bold: To be the generation that educated all of our people, not just a few, to a high standard," the prime minister said.

"That means accepting no complacency, no defeatism, not fatalism in any part of the school system."

Education had always been socially important, in liberating children from poor backgrounds.

The difference now was that it was also economically important, he said, as manual work disappeared and people needed to be highly skilled.

He wanted to work in partnership with those in his audience.

"So that when we look back on this generation, we will see that this was the time when we decided and took the measures necessary to make our country the best educated, the best trained nation in the modern world."



See also:

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