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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 December 2007, 16:52 GMT
Play and learning children's plan
Ed Balls
Ed Balls wants schools to offer a wider range of family services

The Children's Plan, a 1bn 10-year strategy for education, welfare and play, has been set out by ministers.

It includes changes to the primary school curriculum and the possible end of the Sats tests in England by 2009.

The wide-ranging plan promises 3,500 playgrounds, flexible school starts for summer babies and more information for parents about children's progress.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls said the mission was to make "our country the best place in the world to grow up".

The Children's Plan draws together the government's proposals to improve children's learning and well-being by 2020.

Right to play

It promises more safe places for children to play - with 225m for upgrading 3,500 playgrounds and the creation of an extra 30 supervised adventure playgrounds.

play spaces for "tweenagers" (aged eight-13) with 225m to build or upgrade 3,500 community playgrounds
end to "no ball games" culture - bringing importance of play into public spaces and planning
160m for positive activities for young people in sport, drama, art
20,000 two-year-olds from disadvantaged families to get free childcare
"stage not age" testing in schools
review of primary curriculum, including more help for summer-born children
review of child and adolescent mental health services
review of sex education
better contact between schools and parents
parents' council in every secondary school
public services to engage both the father and mother in decisions about their child
better support for parents and children during and after family breakdown
more help for children with special educational needs
all new teachers to be able to study for a Masters degree

"We want to move away from the 'No Ball Games' culture of the past so that public spaces in residential areas are more child friendly," says the plan.

For older children, there will be 160m for refurbishing or building new youth centres.

The plan makes clear that a current pilot for a different type of test for 11-year-olds "could lead to the end of the key stage tests by 2009". But Mr Balls emphasised that school league tables would continue.

There are also tougher targets for primary schools - with the aim of 90% of 11-year-old pupils reaching the expected benchmarks for English and maths.

To achieve this there is to be a "root and branch" review of the primary school curriculum - including making modern languages compulsory.

Weak teachers, whose "competence falls to unacceptably low levels", face the threat of being removed from the profession.

How independent can a review be when it is given such a specific remit?

Children born in August, who would be the youngest in a school year, could have a more flexible entry date for school - with the option of starting a year later.

There will be 200m for extra childcare provision for two year olds for 20,000 families in deprived areas.

The plan emphasises the need for more support and information for parents - including updated progress reports on children's learning and behaviour, using mobile phones and the internet.

When schools are being built or refurbished, the plan says that they should include accommodation for advice services for parents - in areas such as housing, benefits, parenting skills and health.

There will be 167m to fund parenting advisers and to improve "family learning".

The transition into secondary school will also be improved by pupils having an individual member of staff as a contact point for parents.

Youth offending

There is also a shift in youth justice - with the introduction of an option for "restorative justice", in which offenders, rather than being taken to court, will be taken by the police to confront the damage caused by their actions.

Let the education professionals do their job, and keep the politicians out of education
Dr Martin Moxham, Hoddesdon

The importance of children having somewhere safe to play outside is also emphasised.

Children's Minister Beverley Hughes said this had "really great potential" because teenage offenders often "don't have a clue about the impact of their actions".

A pilot restorative justice project had seen a substantial reduction in youth re-offending, said Ms Hughes.

There will be 44m spent on raising teaching standards, with the aim of making teaching a "masters-level profession", with all new teachers encouraged to take a masters-level qualification.

The plan marks a much wider remit for the Children, Schools and Families Department than the former education department - with policies for family life that reach far beyond the classroom.

It also sets out a vision of schools as centres for social services and child welfare far beyond their traditional role of teaching children and preparing them for qualifications.

'Missed opportunity'

The Shadow Children's Secretary, Michael Gove, dismissed the plan as a "missed opportunity" which was "an underwhelming collage with items stuck on any old how and no underlying vision".

"Instead of a broad and deep vision we have had a disappointingly hesitant and patchy programme, which betrays an itch to intervene but no grasp of the real problems," said Mr Gove.

The Liberal Democrats' children's spokesman, David Laws, rejected this "mouse of a plan" - saying it was "nothing more than a hotchpotch of reviews, recycled policies and gimmicks - with the unifying theme of a belief in top-down big government solutions".

The National Union of Teachers welcomed the move to make teaching a masters-degree profession - saying that it was "an idea whose time has come".

The Institute of Directors cautioned that the "government's record on long term policy plans is chequered. This one has to deliver if we are actually to have a world class education system, rather than just talk about one".

The CBI's director-general, Richard Lambert, said that employers welcomed the plans to improve the basics of literacy and numeracy, warning that "too many people currently leave school without mastering these basics".

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