Analysis: We have heard all of this before, Mr Prime Minister

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The Independent Online

There was a feeling of déjà vu in the education world yesterday as Tony Blair launched his "mini-manifesto" for schools as his general election campaign picked up steam. For a start, many of the pledges in yesterday's document made their first appearance in last summer's five-year plan for the future of education.

Take the move to teach both children struggling to keep up in the basics and the most gifted children in smaller classes, and the pledge to give each child a "tailored" tuition designed to meet his or her individual need.

They bear the hallmark of David Miliband, the former school standards minister, who - for most of his time in office - was banging the drum for a more personalised curriculum for every child.

Then there was the reaffirmation of the academies programme, to set up a network of 200 privately sponsored state-aided schools in areas where secondary education had failed pupils. (Cynical I might be, but I wonder why it is no longer the city academies programme; is it because there are not enough sponsors to meet the 200 target if it is limited to inner-city areas?)

But the déjà vu goes back further than the five-year plan, to before the 2001 general election, when Tony Blair addressed the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. He told them of his desire to raise government education spending to the level of the independent sector, so parents who stood by the state sector could obtain just as good an education as that in a private school.

He was using the same allusion yesterday, saying: "People pay taxes to get good, individualised, public services, at least as good or better than they could get by spending the same money to buy those services directly."

Of course, déjà vu is not necessarily a bad thing. In one sense, it shows that there is a continuity to education policies. And no one would quarrel with the idea of help in the form of smaller tuition groups, especially for those who are struggling and those who are exceptionally gifted.

Where Mr Blair should be wary is in claiming that this will give parents facilities similar to those in private schools.

As Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said, parents with children in private schools enjoy those smaller classes throughout the school day. And that is a pledge Labour did not make yesterday.

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