Tony Blair’s revealed his final ambition to make Thatcherism “irreversible” on Monday of this week. That was the key word of his speech announcing the government’s white paper on education.
Margaret Thatcher tried many ways of subverting comprehensive schools, such as setting up special kinds of school and introducing market competition based on league tables.
Blair has continued her policies — and now wants to make absolutely sure that comprehensive schools do not survive.
The real meat of the white paper is the drive to make schools “independent and self-governing”. This means they will be able to choose their own pupils. The government is even offering to provide free transport to bus “promising” children from poorer neighbourhoods to schools in better off areas.
Superficially this move looks as if it could provide new opportunities for some working class pupils, just as grammar schools did for a lucky few in the past.
But in fact it drives a deeper wedge between high achieving schools in wealthy suburbs and the majority of our schools. It is no way to provide high quality education for all communities.
Under the present system, some state funded schools can choose some of their pupils. Blair now claims that all state funded schools could choose all their pupils. This means schools in the richest areas will take the pickings, leaving the poorest neighbourhoods with secondary moderns in all but name.
This is an agenda of privatisation and selection. “All schools will be able to take on external partners. No one will be able to veto new providers coming in.” Local council control is a thing of the past, and like NHS trusts, they are to become “commissioners not providers”.
Schools which don’t survive the dog-eats-dog world of Blair’s reforms will be closed within a year and no doubt privatised.
We urgently need a massive struggle to defend comprehensive eduction, in parallel to the campaign to defend the NHS.
There are already groans of dismay from within the parliamentary Labour Party from those who can’t stomach this — but the real fight will come from the unions and parents.
Terry Wrigley is author of Schools of Hope and a lecturer in education at the University of Edinburgh