Heseltine seeks state schools fit for Tories

Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, yesterday suggested that the state education system would soon be good enough to educate Tory ministers' children.

Only three members of the Cabinet sent their children to state schools, a survey by The Independent has revealed. The rest spent a combined total running into millions of pounds on an education in the independent sector.

The Alma Mater of Cabinet ministers' children include most of the country's most famous public schools. Eton, Harrow, and Stowe are among them, along with a number of other leading boarding and day schools. Boarding school fees now come to more than pounds 12,000 per year in the most well-known schools.

Asked when the state system would become so good that the Cabinet's children would no longer go private, Mr Heseltine said that in future all schools would have to comply with national targets.

"The important thing now is that we are setting targets nationally for this country to be at the top of world education levels and we are expecting all schools to publish their own targets," he said.

Mr Heseltine also attacked the Labour leader, who went to Fettes independent school in Edinburgh, saying that he did not understand the state education system. Tony Blair was guilty of "hypocrisy" over his decision to send his sons to The Oratory, a grant-maintained school in West London, rather than to a local school near his home in Islington.

He went on to claim that Britain's education authorities were run by Labour, and that that was the reason for low standards.

"For the Labour Party to be talking about standards in education spits in the wind of what Labour actually does in education," he said.

To the suggestion that he too was the product of public schooling, at Shrewsbury, the Deputy Prime Minister said: "I am not a hypocrite. I don't proclaim a set of policies for my children which I would deny to other children. That is the essence."

Later, the Prime Minister added a further attack, accusing Labour of a "shameless contract with hypocrisy".

Mr Blair defended himself: "I know that they believe that this is the right strategy for them but I think they are turning people away from the Conservative Party by this type of personalised abuse," he said.

David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, said: "I am not going to indulge in scurrilous personalised attacks on individual ministers, but it is hardly surprising that the Tories aren't interested in raising standards for all our children.

"The fact is that hardly any senior Tories have had the same experience of state schools as the vast majority of families in Britain."

The Independent's survey of where the Cabinet sent their children to school revealed that the Secretary of State for Transport, Sir George Young, sent Gerry, Hugo, Sophia and Camilla to Furze Platt school in Maidenhead, Berkshire, and Tony Newton, the Leader of the House, sent Polly and Jessica to King Edward's High School for Girls in Chelmsford, Essex. Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, had step-children who attended state schools, but the rest of the Cabinet used the independent sector.

Mr Heseltine's children went to boarding schools, with his daughter Annabel attending Cobham Hall School in Kent. The family's local comprehensive, Gillot's School in Henley upon Thames, has the third best GCSE results in Oxfordshire.

Last night Janet Matthews, the chair of the South Oxfordshire Fight Against Cuts in Education and agent for Labour's candidate in Henley, said the group had repeatedly asked Mr Heseltine to come to a meeting to discuss the implications of opting out in the area. He had refused either to do so or to send a representative, she said.