We will make education our number one priority
Cut class sizes to 30 or under for 5, 6 and 7 year-olds
Nursery places for all four year-olds
Attack low standards in schools
Access to computer technology
Lifelong learning through a new University for Industry
More spending on education as the cost of unemployment falls
Education has been the Tories' biggest failure. It is Labour's number one priority.
It is not just good for the individual. It is an economic necessity for the nation. We will compete successfully on the basis of quality or not at all. And quality comes from developing the potential of all our people. It is the people who are our greatest natural asset. We will ensure they can fulfil their potential.
Nearly half of 11 year-olds in England and Wales fail to reach expected standards in English and maths. Britain has a smaller share of 17 and 18 year-olds in full-time education than any major industrial nation. Nearly two thirds of the British workforce lack vocational qualifications.
There are excellent schools in Britain's state education system. But far too many children are denied the opportunity to succeed. Our task is to raise the standards of every school.
We will put behind us the old arguments that have bedevilled education in this country. We reject the Tories' obsession with school structures: all parents should be offered real choice through good quality schools, each with its own strengths and individual ethos. There should be no return to the 11-plus. It divides children into successes and failures at far too early an age.
We must modernise comprehensive schools. Children are not all of the same ability, nor do they learn at the same speed. That means 'setting' children in classes to maximise progress, for the benefit of high-fliers and slower learners alike. The focus must be on levelling up, not levelling down.
With Labour, the Department for Education and Employment will become a leading office of state. It will give a strong and consistent lead to help raise standards in every school. Standards, more than structures, are the key to success. Labour will never put dogma before children's education. Our approach will be to intervene where there are problems, not where schools are succeeding.
Labour will never force the abolition of good schools whether in the private or state sector. Any changes in the admissions policies of grammar schools will be decided by local parents. Church schools will retain their distinctive religious ethos.
We wish to build bridges wherever we can across education divides. The educational apartheid created by the public/private divide diminishes the whole education system.
Zero tolerance of underperformance
Every school has the capacity to succeed. All Local Education Authorities (LEAs) must demonstrate that every school is improving. For those failing schools unable to improve, ministers will order a 'fresh start' - close the school and start afresh on the same site. Where good schools and bad schools coexist side by side we will authorise LEAs to allow one school to take over the other to set the underperforming school on a new path.
Quality nursery education guaranteed for all four year-olds
Nursery vouchers have been proven not to work. They are costly and do not generate more quality nursery places. We will use the money saved by scrapping nursery vouchers to guarantee places for four year-olds. We will invite selected local authorities to pilot early excellence centres combining education and care for the under-fives. We will set targets for universal provision for three year-olds whose parents want it.
New focus on standards in primary schools
Primary schools are the key to mastering the basics and developing in every child an eagerness to learn.
Every school needs baseline assessment of pupils when they enter the school, and a year-on-year target for improvement.
We will reduce class sizes for five, six and seven year-olds to 30 or under, by phasing out the assisted places scheme, the cost of which is set to rise to £180 million per year.
We must recognise the three 'r's for what they are - building blocks of all learning that must be taught better. We will achieve this by improving the skills of the teaching force; ensuring a stronger focus on literacy in the curriculum; and piloting literacy summer schools to meet our new target that within a decade every child leaves primary school with a reading age of at least 11 (barely half do today).
Our numeracy taskforce will develop equally ambitious targets. We will encourage the use of the most effective teaching methods, including phonics for reading and whole class interactive teaching for maths.
Attacking educational disadvantage
No matter where a school is, Labour will not tolerate under-achievement.
Public/private partnerships will improve the condition of school buildings.
There will be education action zones to attack low standards by recruiting the best teachers and head teachers to under-achieving schools; by supporting voluntary mentoring schemes to provide one-to-one support for disadvantaged pupils; and by creating new opportunities for children, after the age of 14, to enhance their studies by acquiring knowledge and experience within industry and commerce.
To attack under-achievement in urban areas, we have developed a new scheme with the Premier League. In partnerships between central government, local government and football clubs, study support centres will be set up at Premier League grounds for the benefit of local children. The scheme will be launched on a pilot basis during the 1997/8 season.
We support the greatest possible integration into mainstream education of pupils with special educational needs, while recognising that specialist facilities are essential to meet particular needs.
Realising the potential of new technology
Labour is the pioneer of new thinking. We have agreed with British Telecom and the cable companies that they will wire up schools, libraries, colleges and hospitals to the information superhighway free of charge. We have also secured agreement to make access charges as low as possible.
For the Internet we plan a National Grid for Learning, franchised as a public/private partnership, which will bring to teachers up-to-date materials to enhance their skills, and to children high-quality educational materials. We will use lottery money to improve the skills of existing teachers in information technology.
In opposition, Labour set up the independent Stevenson Commission to promote access for children to new technology. Its recent report is a challenging programme for the future. We are urgently examining how to implement its plans, in particular the development of educational software through a grading system which will provide schools with guarantees of product quality; and the provision for every child of an individual email address. An independent standing committee will continue to advise us on the implementation of our plans in government.
The role of parents
We will increase the powers and responsibilities of parents.
There will be more parent governors and, for the first time, parent representatives on LEAs.
A major objective is to promote a culture of responsibility for learning within the family, through contracts between all schools and parents, defining the responsibilities of each. National guidelines will establish minimum periods for homework for primary and secondary school pupils.
Teachers will be entitled to positive support from parents to promote good attendance and sound discipline. Schools suffer from unruly and disruptive pupils. Exclusion or suspension may sometimes be necessary. We will, however, pilot new pupil referral units so that schools are protected but these pupils are not lost to education or the country.
New job description for LEAs
The judge and jury of LEA performance will be their contribution to raising standards.
LEAs are closer to schools than central government, and have the authority of being locally elected. But they will be required to devolve power, and more of their budgets, to heads and governors. LEA performance will be inspected by Ofsted and the Audit Commission. Where authorities are deemed to be failing, the secretary of state may suspend the relevant powers of the LEA and send in an improvement team.
Grant maintained schools
Schools that are now grant maintained will prosper with Labour's proposals, as will every school.
Tory claims that Labour will close these schools are false. The system of funding will not discriminate unfairly either between schools or between pupils. LEAs will be represented on governing bodies, but will not control them. We support guidelines for open and fair admissions, along the lines of those introduced in 1993; but we will also provide a right of appeal to an independent panel in disputed cases.
Teachers: pressure and support
Schools are critically dependent on the quality of all staff. The majority of teachers are skilful and dedicated, but some fall short. We will improve teacher training, and ensure that all teachers have an induction year when they first qualify, to ensure their suitability for teaching.
There will be a general teaching council to speak for and raise standards in the profession. We will create a new grade of teachers to recognise the best. There will, however, be speedy, but fair, procedures to remove teachers who cannot do the job.
The strength of a school is critically dependent on the quality of its head. We will establish mandatory qualifications for the post. A head teacher will be appointed to a position only when fully trained to accept the responsibility.
The improvement and expansion needed cannot be funded out of general taxation. Our proposals for funding have been made to the Dearing Committee, in line with successful policies abroad.
The costs of student maintenance should be repaid by graduates on an income-related basis, from the career success to which higher education has contributed. The current system is badly administered and payback periods are too short. We will provide efficient administration, with fairness ensured by longer payback periods where required.
We must learn throughout life, to retain employment through new and improved skills. We will promote adult learning both at work and in the critical sector of further education.
In schools and colleges, we support broader A-levels and upgraded vocational qualifications, underpinned by rigorous standards and key skills.
Employers have the primary responsibility for training their workforces in job-related skills. But individuals should be given the power to invest in training. We will invest public money for training in Individual Learning Accounts which individuals - for example women returning to the labour force - can then use to gain the skills they want. We will kickstart the programme for up to a million people, using £150 million of TEC money which could be better used and which would provide a contribution of £150, alongside individuals making small investments of their own. Employers will be encouraged to make voluntary contributions to these funds. We will also promote the extension of the Investors in People initiative into many more small firms.
Our new University for Industry, collaborating with the Open University, will bring new opportunities to adults seeking to develop their potential. This will bring government, industry and education together to create a new resource whose remit will be to use new technology to enhance skills and education. The University for Industry will be a public/private partnership, commissioning software and developing the links to extend lifelong learning.
Government spending on education
The Conservatives have cut government spending on education as a share of national income by the equivalent of more than £3 billion as spending on the bills of economic and social failure has risen. We are committed to reversing this trend of spending. Over the course of a five-year Parliament, as we cut the costs of economic and social failure we will raise the proportion of national income spent on education.