How I got a second chance, by Prescott

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The Independent Online
Life as an 11-plus failure was relived last night by John Prescott in a passionate defence of the comprehensive system at Ruskin College, Oxford, where he was given a "second chance" with his education.

Dismissing as "Tory lies" reports of a split with Tony Blair over grouping school pupils by subject according to ability, Mr Prescott accused the Government of trying to turn back the clock to an education system which had marked him out as second class.

"A Labour government in which I serve will sing the praises of good comprehensive schools to the rafters," Mr Prescott said. It would never ape Tory methods because "we do not share Tory values".

The vehemence of his support for the comprehensive system was seen as a corrective to the impression given by reports of Mr Blair's speech last week that Labour may be moving towards selection. "There is no difference between us," he said.

He left school at 15 without any qualifications and, after a year as a commis chef and a waiter in local hotels in North Wales and Warrington, went to sea as a steward on Cunard liners. He won a place at Ruskin after a correspondence course on board ship, and when he was 26, went to Hull University for three years, gaining a BSc.