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Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 11:54 GMT


Special needs pupils to get extra support

The Queen's Speech promises that education will remain a priority

The government says that it is to improve the support available to special needs pupils and their families.

The Queen's Speech, reaffirming that education remained the "number one priority" of the government, announced legislation to raise standards of education for children with physical, emotional or behavioural problems

The Queen's Speech
The proposed legislation will place greater emphasis on the duties of local education authorities, with requirements to provide more information and "partnership services" for parents.

There will also be a demand for councils to set up conciliation procedures where there are disputes over the level of education being received by special needs pupils.

Local education authorities will also be obliged to implement the 'statements' which specify the support needed by pupils - which currently apply to over 250,000 pupils.

The government has also set out other key areas for education:

  • reforming post-16 education
  • providing educational and training support for young people leaving care
  • introducing performance-related pay for teachers as part of a re-structuring of salaries and conditions
  • improving literacy and numeracy standards
  • cutting class sizes for infants

After initiatives to improve primary and secondary education, the Queen's Speech announced that the goverment now plans to reform post-16 education.

[ image: Tony Blair is pressing ahead with the introduction of performance-related pay for teachers]
Tony Blair is pressing ahead with the introduction of performance-related pay for teachers
This will mean introducing a Bill to establish a 'Learning and Skills Council', which will become the single planning and funding body for further education, sixth form and any other non-higher education institutions for over 16-year-olds.

This new executive body, which will be responsible for a £5bn annual budget, will replace the Further Education Funding Council and the network of Training and Enterprise Councils.

The speech also renewed the government's pledge to cut class sizes for infants, with the promise that the target of reducing classes to a maximum of 30 pupils would be achieved in almost all schools by September 2000.

Children leaving care

For children leaving local authority care there will be a "pathway plan", which from the age of 16 will detail a strategy for education and training.

The Queen's Speech reiterated the government's commitment to reforming teachers' pay, after the Green Paper's proposals for linking pay to pupils' performance.

Despite the opposition of some teachers' unions, the government will press ahead with the scheme which will offer merit pay and incentives to teachers judged to be the most effective.

The Conservative education spokeswoman, Theresa May, has rejected the government's plans to reform post-16 education.

'Dead hand of bureaucracy'

"The government is creating a new bureaucracy and centralising decision taking. It's already been described as re-creating the old national Manpower Services Commission. The dead hand of bureaucracy will stifle enterprise not encourage it."

The proposals would also threaten the future of sixth forms in schools, said Ms May.

"School sixth forms have every reason to worry as the Government threatens their funding. You don't improve standards in schools by removing school sixth forms by stealth."

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