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
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
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
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
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.