Election 2001: Secondary Schools - Reforms Will Encourage Students to Sit GCSEs Earlier
Richard Garner and Ben Russell, The Independent (London, England)
TONY BLAIR yesterday recognised that he needed to be "more ambitious" in his education plans as he pledged a "top to bottom reform" of the country's 3,500 secondary schools.
Unveiling Labour's education manifesto at Southampton University, he outlined a vision of more choice for pupils at the age of 14, when they could choose to continue with academic studies or opt for vocational courses leading to an apprenticeship at the age of 16.
"We want more differentiated provision to meet the aptitudes and abilities of individual pupils," he said as he confirmed a rise in the number of specialist secondary schools from 600 to at least 1,500 by 2006. His proposals were immediately attacked Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, who said they would "create a two-tier system, introducing preferential funding for the few and disadvantage for the many".
Mr Blair also held out the prospect of "fast-tracking" more youngsters so the brightest sat their GCSE exams earlier, under a proposal for a tenfold increase in spending on projects for gifted and talented pupils to pounds 70m a year.
Labour will double the number of youngsters taking part in these programmes in the next two years to 200,000. It will fund a project for advanced maths centres in Brent, north-west London, and Leicester to give extra coaching to older primary schoolchildren so they can sit their GCSEs at the age of 11. Other schemes for the gifted include a plan to put Latin back on the timetable.
Mr Blair told his audience: "Top quality schools are worth coming out and voting for. The choice in this election is clear. While we propose year on year investment, the Tories' pounds 20bn cuts plan means year on year education cuts."
The Prime Minister pledged to carry out the secondary school shake-up through the creation of a network of specialist schools and targeting pupils who end primary school in danger of falling behind in class. …