Socialist Worker

Blair on the ropes over attacks on comprehensive education

by Nick Grant, secretary Ealing NUT
Issue No. 1985

Protesting against a visit by education secretary Ruth Kelly to City of Islington college in north London on Tuesday (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Protesting against a visit by education secretary Ruth Kelly to City of Islington college in north London on Tuesday (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The opposition to Tony Blair’s education plan is growing. Last week a crammed meeting saw Tony Benn and Alastair Campbell in the audience as activists Fiona Miller and Melissa Benn launched their new pamphlet defending comprehensive education.

On the same day as education secretary Ruth Kelly was fighting for her political life, even Lord Kinnock broke a 14-year old self-imposed vow of silence regarding public criticism of Labour’s regime to chair the meeting.

Fiona insisted that there is no evidence to say that private sponsors in education have any credibility.

Melissa’s message was equally upbeat – the comprehensive system is simply the best, by any academic or social yardstick.

Much less convincingly, former education secretary Estelle Morris talked about how proud she was of everything that Labour has done for education since 1997, even though she fears they are about to travel down a wrong road.

That won’t wash with the children who still have to suffer interminable testing in schools, or the teachers ground down by Ofsted inspections and performance-related pay, or the students put off further and higher education by fees and debt. That is not to mention the boot camps that are city academies.

However, the unprecedented “alternative White Paper” that Morris has fronted does make some worthwhile points.

It says “It is ironic that in a country which has the highest percentage of the working age population in work and the longest working hours in Europe, those parents are then expected to get home and run the local school too.”

The final backbench revolt could reach over 100, leaving Blair needing Tory votes to win a vote. The White Paper means:

  • All new schools would have trust status, publicly-funded but privately controlled.
  • Business sponsors could buy any existing schools as Trusts.
  • There could be fewer controls on admission policies, thus more selection and segregation according to ethnicity, belief or aptitude – if not by primary SATs scores.

While Tony Blair and Ruth Kelly are saying that there will be no selection by ability there are many more ways to select.

Schools also have parental interviews. Other modes of selection will be made much worse by the deregulation of schools to take place under the White Paper. Union members in schools would lose automatic recognition rights.

It is a measure of Blair’s neo-liberal ambition, that he risks destroying his own party in the process of privatising our services

Just because Kelly survived the media bonfire about registered sex offenders working in schools, don’t think the heat is off her now.

The final proposals on education will still be objectionable if Blair has any say in it at all – and he will because he is desperately gambling for glory.

Around the country action is growing. For instance, in Bolton 43 NUT and Unison local activists from six schools in Ruth Kelly’s constituency met last week to plan protests.

So far seven London NUT branches have called for a day of action on Thursday 2 March.

Working class activists everywhere need to be starting the run-up to May’s local government elections, saying, “for a comprehensive future.”

Nick Grant is the author of Hands Off Our Schools.

For more on the White Paper go to and

More on Fiona Miller and Melissa Benn’s campaign at:

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Article information

Sat 28 Jan 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1985
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