Blair declines to lead fight for schools.

Blair declines to lead fight for schools.

But a Downing Street source disclosed yesterday that Mr Blair will not attend the world education forum in Dakar, Senegal, at the end of the month – the first such meeting since targets were set for the achievement of universal basic education 10 years ago.

The decision came as the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, today calls on all governments to work for universal education. Mr Annan, in a speech billed as the most important of his tenure, will press governments to pursue primary education for all by 2015. This is one of the UN’s major goals for the 21st century.

Oxfam will today step up pressure on the prime minister by putting life-size portraits of him in its 800 shops and asking customers to sign them. The portraits will then be taken en masse to Downing Street before the Dakar forum.

The international development secretary Clare Short, who has been campaigning for universal primary education since taking office three years ago, is known to share fears that the forum could end up as just another talking shop, with no firm programme or financial backing being agreed.

A spokesman for her department said: “She is anxious that we get some momentum behind these targets. We must ensure that Dakar does not fail.”Blair declines to lead fight for schools.

At present, about 130m children do not receive a primary school education, more than half of them in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Nigeria. The cost of educating them is estimated at £4.5bn a year over 10 years.

Ideally, the charities would want Mr Blair to go to the G8 summit in Japan in July to persuade the leading industrial nations to provide the necessary funds. But Downing Street countered that this was an unrealistic ambition, given that Japan, as the host country, will control the agenda. A key element in getting Mr Blair’s support would have been his attendance at Dakar.

In addition to Oxfam’s cut-out Blairs, a poster will also be unveiled in London by the three charities today saying that “education isn’t working” and showing a line of people from the developing world.

It is based on the famous Tory poster used in the 1979 general election campaign, “Labour isn’t working”.

David Archer, the director of ActionAid, said: “We want ‘education, education, education’ to become a worldwide rallying cry. We call on Tony Blair to take a global leadership role to mobilise the political will and financial resources to get all children a decent education.”