Building My New Scotland; as Chancellor Puts the Emphasis on Education, He Writes Exclusively about His Plans For

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MY vision of Scotland's future is of the best educated nation in the world and, because of our talent and skills, one of the most prosperous.

Centuries ago, Scotland was one of the first countries to offer every child basic education. The dream was the 'lad o' pairts' - a Scot, no matter from what background, progressing to university and a good job.

Now in 2006 it is time to make our vision of education - the key to higher living standards - a modern reality.

Education will be the real battleground of the Scottish parliament elections next summer. The SNP's priority is separation while, rightly, Jack McConnell's is investment in education.

And while the SNP wants the UK to break up, devolution gives us the best chance to invest in our people while benefiting from the stability of the UK.

With that stability, he and I want to build a Scotland where no child is left behind - and not just some but all young people have the chance to stay on in part-time or fulltime education until 18. And we'll do more than expand college and university education and raise standards in our schools.

In the last ten years, we've revived apprenticeships, which were virtually dying in Scotland. And in the next decade we'll create more apprenticeships, from more than 30,000 today to in excess of 50,000 - young plumbers, electricians, technicians, IT specialists and service workers.

This will be at the heart of a manifesto that, overall, will create 100,000 new jobs in Scotland in the coming decade. It starts from an education revolution. Ten years ago, you started school at four or five and left at 16.

Ten years from now, you'll start nursery school at three - with playgroups before that - and could go on until 18.

And education holds the key to the renewal of Scotland's economy. With 200,000 more jobs and 130,000 children lifted out of poverty, the last ten years have seen great achievements - 200,000 more Scots own their own homes and spending on hospitals and schools has doubled.

A lot has been achieved in the last ten years but, as the pace of global change quickens, we must do more in the next ten. In the new global economy, we must compete not on low pay but on high skills.

The key for any country to succeed lies in learning. To be one of the world's greatest success stories, Scotland must use people's talents to the full.

LOOK at the jobs market of the future. Over the next five years, half a million new job openings could be available. But of these, 188,000 are predicted to require degree level qualifications, and a further 90,000 Level Three, Intermediate qualifications. Only 43,000 - less than 10 per cent of the new jobs - will require no formal skills.

So, while unskilled work is declining, the need for skilled workers grows.

And devolution also gives us the flexibility in education and technology to tailor policies to our needs.

China and India are now educating two million graduates a year. Britain turns out only 250,000. Up against large countries with vast pools of unskilled labour and millions of graduates, we must do far more, from the school onwards, to develop skills for the future.

In Scotland, since 1999, we have refurbished 227 schools and, by 2009, that figure will rise to 300. By next year, we will have 53,000 teachers in our classrooms and 5,000 classroom assistants playing their part in reducing class sizes in both primary and secondary schools. …