Reform to be radical in the classroom

EXCLUSIVESpending review statement for The Evening Star By ESTELLE MORRIS"This week's Spending Review showed that education is the government's top priority.

By Tracey Sparling


Spending review statement for The Evening Star By ESTELLE MORRIS

"This week's Spending Review showed that education is the government's top priority. It is right that we are investing more than the European average. Our future as a prosperous nation depends on releasing everyone's potential.

"But money alone will not improve secondary schools in Ipswich. Investment will be matched by radical reform.

"We have delivered the biggest-ever leap in primary standards. More children in Suffolk than ever before get to secondary school able to read, write and count (local figures if available). We were right to focus on primaries first. We had to get the basics right.

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"Next are secondary schools. The best are outstanding. Suffolk has some shining examples. But too many others fail their pupils. Parents in Suffolk cannot say with confidence that they would send their children to any of their local schools.

"The truth is that the system is outdated. The comprehensive ideal is right - every child deserves the same chance. I taught for 18 years in an inner-city comprehensive. I believe passionately in the ideal.

"But the comprehensive system has not delivered all that we wanted. Low standards have gone unchallenged. Poor discipline has been excused. Parents have had little choice.

"This is a big challenge. But I'm determined to drive through the necessary reform. I want every secondary school in Suffolk to be world-class – an ambition I know parents and teachers share.

"Teachers themselves are at the heart of this reform. We have the best generation of teachers and I praise them for it. They change pupils' lives across the country and this is recognised by Ofsted who say we have the best teaching and learning ever.

"That's why we will back them up with time to prepare better lessons. Parents rightly demand ever better teaching – and they are right to do so. But we must give teachers the time to plan. This Spending Review will allow us to do so.

"But we will end restrictive practices too. More teaching assistants will cut the burden on teachers – so they can actually teach. I am determined to support teachers and set them free to teach.

"Good heads make all the difference. So we are giving them more power and responsibility. Secondary schools in Suffolk will be able to get an extra £150,000 a year to help heads raise standards. But poor heads will not be rewarded. They will improve or be replaced. The extra money will depend on clear plans to improve.

"Every school must have its own ethos. But the old 'one-size-fits-all' system stopped schools from doing this. We will break this up. We will expand rapidly the number of specialist schools to 2000 by 2006. Suffolk already has 15 – I want to see many more. We will build new state-of-the-art City Academies – replacing failing schools.

"And new Advanced Schools – the very best comprehensives – will work with others to ratchet up standards. The best in Suffolk will lead the rest. Advanced Schools could take over failing ones. "Our best Heads will become 'chief executives' – running more than one school. Radical yes, but only radical reform will transform standards.

"And this will be underpinned by zero tolerance of poor behaviour in the classroom.

"A national behaviour strategy, with huge new resources, means we will back teachers who instil discipline.

"Children must know the difference between right and wrong – and parents must play their part too, or face stiff penalties. We have tolerated poor behaviour for far too long. We will tolerate it no more.

"This will not happen overnight. Real reform never does. But it is more important to get it right than rush through clever-sounding measures that make no difference. I want something better – secondary schools in Suffolk that parents are proud to send their children to. And that means investment matched by radical reform."