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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 June 2007, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
New challenge for the families man
By Hannah Goff
BBC News education reporter

Father and daughter
The new department will take a holistic approach
The new Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families may be inheriting a reduced brief but it won't be any less challenging.

What with the underachievement of working class boys and a whole raft of new policies coming into force, it's going to be a busy time in the new department.

One of the first issues Ed Balls might find in his inbox is the forthcoming shake-up of 14 to 19 education and the introduction of the new specialised diplomas.

These are the new qualifications which will run alongside GCSEs and A-levels.

The first of five of them will be taught in schools and colleges throughout England from September 2008. By 2013 there should be 14 on offer.

No commentator can deny there have been leaps forward in England's schools since 1997

There have been major concerns about how the new qualifications will work and whether they will be ready in time.

This is mainly because there are so many bodies, including local authorities, schools, businesses and colleges, involved in their delivery.

But they also have something of a potential image problem.

Out-going Education Secretary Alan Johnson warned they could go "horribly wrong" particularly because they were to run alongside A-levels and GCSEs .

This meant they could be seen as second best, he warned.

With Gordon Brown pledging his commitment to academies - the privately run state schools that have ruffled so many feathers - we know they are here to stay.

Record results

With so many claims about their extra cost and higher than average exclusion rates - the new secretary of state will have a tough job to persuade the teaching unions, and many Labour backbenchers, they can deliver for working class pupils.

There have been apparent steps forward in England's schools since 1997.

Some 100,000 more children leaving primary school every year with proper literacy skills, 85,000 more achieving the benchmark five good GCSEs and A-level passes at a record high are just some of the statistics often quoted by ministers.

Some query whether standards have really risen, or whether the changes are the result of "teaching to the test" and teenagers' choosing "easier" GCSEs and doing modular A-levels.

Universities complain that new undergraduates need remedial lessons to get them to the right level and employers say they lack basic skills.

The new Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families will have to tackle the underachievement of children from poor families - especially boys.

Some 40% of boys still leave primary school unable to write properly and nearly a third end up with few or no qualifications.

Family man

Breaking the link between social background and achievement has got to be one of the most elusive of educational holy grails.

It remains to be seen whether offering one-to-one tuition to those falling behind in maths and English and encouraging teachers to play to the strengths of their pupils through personalised learning will have a real impact.

But what of the children and family side of the job?

Gordon Brown has made much of his credentials as a family man.

The new secretary of state Ed Balls will have to take a holistic look across his new brief - ensuring children's welfare and health needs are met as well as their educational needs.

He is also likely to have a tough job balancing the giving of sound advice to parents with inevitable accusations of nanny statism.

Early Years

Labour's commitment to giving the parents of all three and four-year-olds access to free good quality childcare - albeit limited - was universally welcomed.

But there have been criticisms of the amount of cash per session on offer with many smaller, independent nurseries and play-groups complaining that the level at which funding was set was unsustainable.

Because no top-up fees can be charged - as that would remove the free access - many groups have said it is threatening their livelihood.

It remains to be seen whether this well meant commitment will backfire.

Another challenge will be the government's pledge to offer all children by 2010 access to extended schools - those open before and after the traditional school day.

It is hoped half of primary schools and one-third of secondary schools will do so by 2008.

The old Department for Education and Skills took in what it called "Youth Matters" and this should remain in the new department.

In 2005, the government produced a green paper which said young people should have more to do in their local areas and more of a say, plus better advice and help.

But there will also be more nebulous issues to address like absentee fathers, yob culture and whether or not to hug a hoodie.

Brown shakes up education arena
28 Jun 07 |  Education

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