'Death Of The Comprehensive.' So the Daily Mail greeted Blair's plans for education this week. Scrapping the hated 11-plus and introducing comprehensive schools in the 1960s and 1970s led to the biggest ever increase in educational achievement. The system was so successful that even Tory education secretary Margaret Thatcher went along with it.
Standards have continued to rise despite schools being starved of cash. Now Blair-educated at Fettes College, Scotland's Eton-wants to return to selection. He says the next New Labour government will double the number of 'specialist schools' to about 1,500 over the next five years. That is 46 percent of secondary schools in England and Wales.
These schools can formally select up to 10 percent of their pupils. He claims selection will be 'by aptitude' and will be fair. But who is more likely to be able to demonstrate 'an aptitude' for, say, music-a working class child or one from households like the Blairs' (combined income of over half a million pounds), which have a grand piano and access to tutors? Specialist schools get extra cash. The market in schools means they are then oversubscribed and can pick and choose who gets in, selecting far more than 10 percent of their intake.
Blair wants schools to specialise in 'business and enterprise'. His assault on education means opportunities for the few in business-backed schools and rejection for the majority. No wonder defenders of privilege, such as the Telegraph and the Tories, were crowing this week.