Labour signalled that education was a policy priority well before the 1997 General Election. In his now famous Labour Party Conference speech in 1996, Tony Blair announced that the three highest priorities in government would be ‘Education, education, education’. In December 1996, Blair outlined Labour Party thinking on education policy; themes, which, as we shall see, have continued to be important since 1997:
I believe there is the chance to forge a new consensus on education policy. It will be practical not ideological. And it will put behind us the political and ideological debates that have dominated the last thirty years. The foundations of the consensus are clear. Early support for children under the age of five. Primary schools delivering high standards of literacy and numeracy. Rigorous assessment of pupil and school performance, and action based upon it. Improved training and qualifications for teachers, especially Heads. Early intervention when things go wrong. Support from all sections of the community to ensure that all our children are given the best possible start. And we must never forget that education is not a one-off event for the under 18s. The new consensus must be based on wide access to higher education and continual opportunities for all adults to learn throughout life. (Tony Blair MP, Speech given at Ruskin College, Oxford, 16 December 1996)
Education also featured in both the 1997 and 2001 election pledges. In 1997, as one of the five ‘early pledges’, Labour promised to cut class sizes to 30 or under for five-, six- and seven-year-olds by using money from phasing out the assisted places scheme.
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