Issue 208 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published May 1997 Copyright Socialist Review

Election special: Learning difficulties

Gareth Jenkins

Education, education, education, was the priority promised by Tony Blair. Yet just about the only concrete commitment Labour has made is that it will limit class sizes for five to seven year olds to under 30. Labour will not abolish grant maintained schools or SATS or Ofsted (it will even keep the awful Chris Woodhead). It will not reform, let alone get rid of, the National Curriculum. It has even gone back on its commitment to abolish the remaining grammar schools.

During the election Blair talked about schools being eligible for additional capital spending and funding for pupils in specialist areas (such as languages, music, sports and technology) provided they attract 100,000 from business sponsorship. He also talked about extending the Private Finance Initiative to cope with the backlog in maintenance and repairs.

Both these ideas are lifted from the Conservatives. There is no evidence that they work. When Kenneth Baker attempted something similar with City Technology Schools, very few bits of the private sector coughed up any money.

Labour has also promised to tackle unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, with its welfare to work package. Labour aims to take 250,000 young people off the dole, plus older people who have been unemployed for over two years, at a cost of 3 billion over five years. This will be financed by a windfall tax on the privatised utilities which have made excess profits.

It is difficult to see that this differs greatly from Tory measures such as the Jobseeker's Allowance.

Labour's hope is that by offering people training and community work projects they will be able to get proper, lasting jobs. This depends on real changes in the job market. Yet all the evidence is that things have become worse. The number of jobs may have risen but part time and temporary work have grown. At the same time prospects for young people and black people in particular have got worse.

Labour's repeated insistence that it respects the market and that it will even continue the Tories' privatisation programme if the 'hole' in the public spending receipts requires it, means that it cannot challenge the priorities of the system which entail continuing attacks on wages and permanent jobs.


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