Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown and wife Sarah talk with students at Brunel Academy in Bristol, in western England last Thursday. One in five primary school children spent seven years in education, without learning to read or write properly, according to the BBC. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: In 1997, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair set out his three priorities for government: "Education, education, education".

So has this mantra worked? Despite advances and changes during the Labour government period, there are still issues facing the education sector. Spending, class sizes, teacher/pupil safety, a lack of maths, English and science literacy and truancy all remain problems.

Spending in the education sector increased by 48 per cent between 1997 and 2007, class sizes came down and teachers were given pay rises.

However, one in five primary school children spent seven years in education without learning to read or write properly, according to the BBC.

Results in maths, literacy and science were low, and school leavers are still being criticised for lacking in maths and literacy skills.

In March this year, Tesco's executive director of corporate and legal affairs Lucy Neville-Rolfe, said that although many A-level students and graduates were not able to read or write or understand maths properly, more were achieving better results, a report in The Telegraph said.

She also attacked students who felt that it was their right to gain employment and who had "what you might call an attitude problem".

Truancy remains a problem for schools, and radical changes to the law were introduced to force parents to take responsibility for their children's attendance.

Last year, Ministry of Justice figures showed that a total of 133 parents were jailed from 2000-2007, for not being able to make sure their children didn't miss school.

Patricia Amos a mother of five was the first to receive a jail sentence for failing to prevent two of her daughters from playing truant for almost two years.

Teenage pregnancy rates also remain among the highest in Europe, which led to criticisms of school sex education lessons.

In 2008, there were 41,325 conceptions by women aged under 18 in England and Wales.

Safety in school for both teachers and pupils is also an issue. In August 2002, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman (both 10 years old) went missing. Ian Huntley, a caretaker at their school, was later convicted of their murders after their bodies were discovered and clothes found at the school.

Failings in the police were linked to the case, as Huntley previously had complaints against him, including allegations of rape.

This March, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers released findings of a survey, showing that classrooms are still violent and dangerous places to work.

The results showed that one-quarter of school staff had suffered violence from pupils and one-third had been confronted by aggressive parents. Almost 40 per cent of the 1,000 teachers surveyed said they may leave the profession early because of the bad behaviour they experienced.


Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs) were introduced in 1991 for primary school children (age 7) and in 1995 (age 11) to test Key Stage 2 progression in English, Maths and Science.

"The tests are intended to show if your child is working at, above or below the target level for their age. This helps the school to make plans for their future learning. It also allows schools to see whether they are teaching effectively by comparing their pupils' performance to national results," information on the Government's site states.

The introduction of the tests caused controversy, with teaching staff accusing the government of over-testing pupils and concentrating too much on school league tables. This month, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Head Teachers announced that they will be boycotting the tests, although this does not include strike action.

A controversial introduction by the Labour government was tuition fees for university students (means-tested), announced in 1997. The fees aim to provide access to university education to students from poorer, deprived backgrounds. The fees for the academic year 2009/2010 are £3,225 (Dh18,200).

Tuition fees for Scots were abolished in Scotland, while other UK residents are still required to pay if studying at a Scottish university.

In your opinion, what do you think are the main issues facing the education sector? Are you happy with the standard of your child's education and their safety in school?