Balls to unveil children's plan

LONDON (Reuters) - The government is due to unveil details on Tuesday of a 10-year plan to create a “world class” education for every child in England.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls talks to four-year-old Karem Gadd (R) during a visit to the Fawood Children's Centre in London, June 29, 2007. The government is due to unveil details on Tuesday of a 10-year plan to create a "world class" education for every child in England. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Children’s Secretary Ed Balls will give details of the wide-ranging plan in parliament, to include a review of primary education, an earlier start for language learning, and changes to national pupil tests.

Additional measures will promise more support for parents, provision of health and social services for children on secondary school sites, as well as money for adventure playgrounds and improved youth services.

The announcement comes after a government survey on the wellbeing of children in England was published last month which found more needed to be done to close the gap in achievement for children from deprived backgrounds.

“Today I am setting out proposals to strengthen our education system, to strengthen our curriculum, to get to better testing and stronger testing for young people which will be more suited to their needs,” Balls told BBC television.

He said he would be responding to “concerns of parents who want more support to keep their children happy, healthy, playing, but also doing well at school”.

Jim Rose, a former director of schools inspectorate Ofsted, will conduct a “root and branch” review of primary education, the first in more than a decade.

Rose’s brief is to reduce the number of set subjects to create more time for maths and reading.

The primary review aims to ensure that every child is taught a foreign language in primary school, as recommended by Lord Dearing in a government report earlier this year.

National standard assessment tests of pupils -- used to monitor their progress and rank their schools -- could become less rigid.

Pupils could be tested when they were ready, rather than all at the same time, if a pilot programme currently under way in 500 schools proved successful.

But Balls said at the weekend said he would not abolish the tests, despite pressure from teaching unions and education academics who say they put unneeded pressure on pupils, parents, schools and teachers.

The plan’s publication comes a month after an academic report said the government had spent half a billion pounds in a failed attempt to boost reading standards in primary schools in the seven years to 2005.

The Liberal Democrats said the plan was “change for change’s sake”.

“More reviews and curriculum upheaval will do nothing to improve the quality of education in schools today,” said LibDem Children’s spokesman David Laws.