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PANORAMA: 1997

New Standards for a Proper British Education
by Ruth Bryan

BRITISH Prime Minister Tony Blair kept his promise to put education at the core of the Government's priorities when he announced plans to expand the successful summer literacy scheme.

At a visit to Morpeth Secondary School in East London, Mr Blair announced a ten-fold increase in the provision of summer literacy schemes for next year after the success of this year's pilot programme.

Last summer's literacy programme was the first of its kind organised by the Government, with 1,600 youngsters participating in specially designed literacy programmes at 50 schools around the country.

The literacy schools offered each child 50 hours' tuition during the summer holidays. Each school developed its study programme with the help of a team of expert literacy advisers. Next year, education authorities will be invited to bid for the money to fund 500 summer literacy schemes for 16,000 youngsters.
"I've always said that education would be our number one priority, the passion of my Government," Mr Blair said, adding that the Government is now turning that passion into action that will revolutionise standards at every level. "The focus of education is not something that we plan for one term, one year, one Parliament. It is here for good."

The Government is in discussion with companies and industrialists to raise at least one million pounds sterling from the private sector that will be matched by four million pounds sterling from central and local government funds for subsequent summer schools.

The rallying call for private sector funds was soon answered by Maurice Hatter, owner of IMO Precision Controls, who instantly pledged one million pounds sterling to fund an expansion of the summer literacy schools.

Commending Mr Hatter's record for helping charitable causes and commitment to education, Mr Blair said: "All the time, we are strengthening the partnership with business and involving them in the crusade to raise standards in schools, because business and industry depend upon us producing a well-educated and highly motivated workforce."

The Government has set tough targets for 11-year-olds. By 2002, 80 per cent of this age group must reach the standard expected of their age in the English language. Schools, teachers and education authorities that are not responding will be subject to Government scrutiny.

The education department of the East London borough of Hackney - one of the most deprived urban areas in Britain - has caught the Government's attention for its failure to provide the children of that borough with an adequate education.

A high-powered four-member improvement team has been established to devise strategies to tackle areas of weakness. The team will be reporting to the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) in January.

This move is part of the Government's overall double-edged strategy of providing educational funding and support, and applying pressure on failing schools, teachers and authorities. So far, some 2.3 billion pounds sterling has been given for books and crumbling schools to tackle decades of neglect.

Three years ago, 11 per cent of Morpeth School's pupils gained five A to C passes in General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams; now it is 39 per cent. A few years ago, one or two of these pupils might have gone on to university; now, 20 or 30 of this year's intake will do so.

Mr Blair put this level of progress down to the school's inspiring and dedicated headteacher, the staff and also the school's policy on the use of supplementary teaching outside school hours. He congratulated the school on the good example of its elaborate study weekend and longer study trips funded by a successful business partnership with Bankers Trust. This has included weekend residential courses at English universities as well as trips to New York paid for by the bank.

This year's summer literacy programme also had some private support. News International (publisher of The Times, among other United Kingdom newspapers), for example, gave 250,000 pounds sterling to help children with their reading and writing difficulties. This was in addition to the 300,000 pounds sterling from central government.

Education Extra, the charity chosen by the Department for Education to coordinate the summer school programme, welcomed the extra funding that it will receive to organise more schemes next year.

The children targeted for the summer schemes were those that the schools felt were at risk of failing. The schemes aimed to offer the pupils two main benefits: valuable literacy tuition and help to lessen the trauma involved in the transition from primary school to secondary school.

The schemes had literacy as their main objective but they also included other things such as trips to theme parks, theatre visits and game activities that all help to motivate the children. Many of these activities were also supported by additional funding from private companies.

By all accounts the summer literacy schools have been very successful and can be regarded as one of the first steps on the way to achieving the Government's goal: a first-class education for all children.

  

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