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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 November 2006, 17:26 GMT
McConnell makes school leaver vow
Jack McConnell
Mr McConnell said he wanted to unlock people's potential
First Minister Jack McConnell has said a third term Labour administration at Holyrood would place education as its most important priority.

Mr McConnell pledged that by 2012 no 16 or 17-year-old would leave school without being "meaningfully engaged" in education, work or vocational training.

He was addressing delegates at the Scottish Labour Conference in Oban.

Mr McConnell also unveiled plans to extend foreign language teaching to the youngest pupils in primary school.

He also said he would boost the importance of science in schools.

The first minister said that specialist science teachers would provide back-up for class teachers at primary school.

A sunrise agenda for three to 11-year-olds would see more investment in pre-school education and training, he said.

He told delegates that Labour's first two terms were about meeting public priorities.

Mr McConnell, a former maths teacher, said a third term would be about unlocking people's potential.

We have a clear goal, by 2012 every 16 and 17-year-old in the country will be meaningfully engaged, learning and developing
Jack McConnell

He said: "Alex Salmond wants to run the economy on a dwindling supply of oil.

"I want to run our economy on Scotland's most precious resource, the talents and skills of our people and our children."

The first minister said he would be looking to make leaving school at the ages of 16 and 17 conditional on a youngster entering education, employment, training or full-time volunteering.

He said he had asked Anton Colella, the man brought in to sort out the Scottish Qualifications Authority after the exams chaos six years ago, to look at the options available.

Mr McConnell said: "We have a clear goal, by 2012 every 16 and 17-year-old in the country will be meaningfully engaged, learning and developing, preparing for the new competition in the global economy."

The first minister also set out a range of policies which Labour would commit to if it was to be returned to power after next May's Holyrood elections.

They included:

  • A full employment agency to get a further 100,000 Scots into work
  • Health checks for men
  • Double the number of community wardens
  • New partnerships to "invigorate" provincial towns
  • A new Forth road crossing

Nicola Stugeon, the SNP's deputy leader, said: "Ten years ago Labour were elected on the promise of education, education, education.

"Now, after a whole decade Mr McConnell says education is to be his top priority.

"What on earth has he been doing during his time in office?"

She claimed the first minister had "lost touch with reality".

Mr McConnell sets out Labour's education plans

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