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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 September, 2004, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
Clarke offers education 'crusade'
Charles Clarke speaking at the Labour conference
Charles Clarke promised a "revolution"
The Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, has offered the electorate an education "crusade".

Speaking at the Labour Party conference in Brighton, he said the most important challenge involved a "revolution" in early years education and childcare.

Every primary school would offer learning, sport and cultural activities from 8am to 6pm.

Labour would face up to tough decisions - such as over student finance - when opposition parties would not, he said.

Criticism

He listed the improvement in test and exam results of the past seven years.

But he said the prime minister had told him there was "a lot still to do".

Labour had been criticised by the editor of the New Statesman, he said, for having uninspiring ideas - of no longer having "a crusade".

So Mr Clarke offered a crusade - to give every child an excellent start in life and parents affordable childcare, to ensure schools inspired pupils to learn, to create the most highly skilled workforce in the world.

The aim was to create educational opportunity for every citizen throughout their lives - including tackling the "appalling backlog" of adults without the equivalent of five good GCSEs, he said.

"I believe with all my heart that the crusade for genuine educational opportunity throughout life is an inspiring crusade for our party and our country."

'Desperate'

The Conservative education spokesman, Tim Collins, said: "Labour's rhetoric on education gets more and more outlandish - Charles Clarke is talking about it as his "crusade", but once again this is all talk.

"Ministers are now running from one desperate measure to another as the evidence of falling standards mounts daily."

The fact that they were "trumpeting the success" of the new city academies was a clear admission of failure of earlier initiatives, he said.

"Only a Conservative government dedicated to improving school standards by giving choice to all families will end this grim spiral of despair and decline in our education system."

For the Liberal Democrats, Phil Willis said Labour had "failed so miserably" they now resorted to "wildly emotive language which smacks of desperation, not inspiration".

"Whilst the mantra of choice is paraded before the electorate, what parents desperately need, particularly in early years, is a guarantee of high quality service delivered locally," he said.

"The Liberal Democrat pledge to match Labour on childcare, but divert the wasteful Child Trust Fund money into reducing infant class sizes to 15, delivers what every parent wants - yet only the private sector provides."

Workforce concerns

A criticism of the government's plans for "wraparound childcare" and extended schools is that details have not been given of how they would work and what the likely costs would be.

Responding to his speech, the general secretary of the NASUWT teachers' union, Chris Keates, said it supported the government's view that schools should be at the heart of their community.

"NASUWT has no problem with the concept of extended schools, particularly as there is no expectation that teachers will work extra hours or be diverted from their core function," she said.

"The same must also apply to head teachers and other members of the school workforce.

"Schools should commission the extended provision from the many organisations which currently offer these services to schools and not attempt 'in-house' solutions."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said it was "a welcome relief" that Mr Clarke had not announced any new initiatives, given the government's already "massive agenda for reform".




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