Labour Party conference news September 24-28 Johnson to end neglect of children in care

28 Sep 06
Alan Johnson has vowed to unveil wide-ranging proposals next month to put a stop to the 'chill indifference' of the state to children in care and banish the deep-seated disadvantage that condemns many of them to failure.

29 September 2006

Alan Johnson has vowed to unveil wide-ranging proposals next month to put a stop to the 'chill indifference' of the state to children in care and banish the deep-seated disadvantage that condemns many of them to failure.

The education and skills secretary pledged in his address to the Labour Party conference in Manchester to tackle the culture of neglect that means looked-after children are five times less likely to get five GCSEs than their counterparts living with parents.

Speaking on September 27, he said that for too long such children had missed out on reaping the benefits of rising educational standards across the board.

'No one suffers greater disadvantage in our education system than children in care,' he told delegates. 'The chill indifference of their proxy parent, the state, has meant that instead of bringing them up we have let them down.'

The education secretary announced some of the measures that will be fleshed out when the full package is revealed after Parliament returns.

Children in care will receive a £2,000-per-year bursary, in addition to the other financial support available, to help them meet the costs of going to university.

They will also be given an additional £100 in their child trust funds for each year that they are in care.

Johnson said that, in future, local authorities would be obliged to seek places at the best schools in the area for the children in their care, 'just as any good parent would'. He said looked-after children should in future be able to 'look to the state to provide the security and love they have been denied. We mustn't let them down.'

Elsewhere in his speech, Johnson lauded the government's progress in its drive to raise educational standards, citing the recruitment of an extra 36,000 teachers and the programme to refurbish or rebuild every school in the country as evidence of its commitment.

Turning to the examinations regime, which he praised as being among the most rigorous in the world, Johnson announced reforms to GCSEs.

Coursework will be scrapped in mathematics and completed under controlled conditions in all other GCSE subjects.

He said these measures were necessary to crack down on cheating by pupils who passed off material downloaded from the internet as their own.

'We cannot have [the exams system] undermined and devalued by the small minority,' Johnson added.

The National Union of Teachers welcomed the move. General secretary Steve Sinnott said: 'We welcome the removal of unnecessary coursework. There are some subjects for which it is totally inappropriate.

'I hope however that coursework is retained for subjects such as the arts, geography and history.'

Use your buying power to go green, urges Miliband

David Miliband is calling on his Cabinet colleagues to harness the government's purchasing power by putting the fight against climate change at the heart of procurement policy.

The environment and rural affairs secretary said he was urging other ministers to take a lead on sustainability by ensuring that their departments spend budgets in ways that promote green objectives.

Miliband told delegates on September 27 that Whitehall should flex its financial muscle and do business only with companies that live up to their environmental responsibilities.

'We have to aim, as a nation, to live within the limits of what the planet can sustain. That means every business cutting its emissions and every trade union signing up to energy efficiency,' he told the conference.

'The £150bn of government procurement should be done in a green way, to make sure it is sustainable.'

The minister criticised those who failed to acknowledge the threat of climate change, branding them 'the flat-earthers of the twenty-first century' and arguing that this is one of the key political challenges of the moment.

Miliband also admitted that there needed to be more effective integration of the public and private investment used to fund projects tackling climate change and promoting green alternatives. He announced a £10m, two-year, funding programme to help close that gap.

The money will go to the Carbon Trust, which will use it to identify disused local authority and NHS land suitable for wind farms and then attract the private investment needed to fund them.

Miliband said the scheme would help generate enough clean energy to power 250,000 homes.

He also called on local government to take a leading role in the fight for a green future. 'Our vision should be simple and bold: 100 great British cities leading the drive against climate change,' he said.


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