Party rejects call to abolish grant-maintained schools Blair on change of status for GM schools Left cries 'betrayal' as vote fails to veto grant schools

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The Independent Online

Parliamentary Correspondent

Tony Blair was relieved of the embarrassment of having his choice over the education of his son in direct contradiction with Labour Party policy yesterday, when a move to abolish grant- maintained status and bring all schools under local authority control was defeated by a three to one majority.

The most heated debate of the conference featured Roy Hattersley in the unusual role of darling of the left wing as he accused the party leadership of propping up a failed Tory scheme, and called for a drive against the country's 150 remaining grammar schools. "Let's stop apologising about comprehensive schools," said the former deputy leader of the party, winning a standing ovation from part of the Brighton conference hall.

But in a trenchant defence of the leadership's compromise on "opt-out" schools, education spokesman David Blunkett said there would be no two- tier system and warned Mr Hattersley of the electoral consequence of splitting the party. "Everyone in this room knows that the team that kicks into its own goal loses the match - and we are not going to lose the match."

The call to abolish GM status and bring all schools, including city technology colleges, back under local authority control was defeated by 76.4 per cent to 23.6 per cent. Union block votes ensured the comfortable majority, with constituency parties voting by only the narrowest of margins against the motion. A show-of-hands vote would have looked far more damaging for Mr Blair but was avoided when Diana Jueda, chairing the session, moved promptly to a card vote.

Under the policy document Diversity and Excellence, approved yesterday, GM schools would be renamed Foundation schools, two councillors would be added to their boards of governors and extra funding would stop. Some 1,070 of the 24,000 secondary schools in England and Wales have opted out of council control, but the Government has had difficulty in persuading more to follow.

The Labour document also restates the party's opposition to the 11-plus examination. "We are determined to renew and commit ourselves to comprehensive education for every child in the country," he said. There would be no hierarchy of schools, and "fair and equitable funding" for every school.

Mr Blair's decision to send his son Euan to a GM school, the London Oratory, eight miles from his Islington home, was attacked by delegates. Maggie, a retired teacher from Coventry, said she felt "a great sense of betrayal". Nigel Mason, of Islington North, said there could be no compromise over opt-out schools: "We will not accept the concept of Foundation schools. This is the Sellafield factor - if something stinks, change the name."

Lynn Jones, of Harborough, condemned GM schools as "divisive, selective and destructive". She added: "We must not be seen as the Tories' partners in crime."

But the weightiest criticism came from Mr Hattersley who said the proposal for Foundation schools offered GM schools a chance to be different - "a chance to pose as superior and therefore the chance, from one source or other, to obtain extra finance".

GM schools were the great failure of the Tory government - "the thing they couldn't bribe or bully schools to [become]", Mr Hattersley said. "Why we should prop it up seems to me absolutely extraordinary."

Labour education policy: What they said ...

Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education, in leaked memo last month:

"This should be one of our major success stories but it is not. On education, Labour maintains a lead over us of about 30 per cent, compared with 20 per cent a year ago. There is a perception that schools are underfunded and peace in the classroom is threatened.... Insufficient resources now threaten the provision of education in the state sector, including grant- maintained schools.

Tony Blair, the Labour leader, speaking about education in Tuesday's conference speech:

"... if we do not change, we will have two classes of health service, two classes of state schools ... We will put our education system right. No more dogma. No more arguments about structures. For every school, fair and equitable funding. No return to selection, academic or social. But a new deal in our classrooms."

Diversity and Excellence, Labour's education policy paper passed by yesterday's conference:

"Schools will be organised in one of three ways.

"Community schools, based on existing county schools, would have a number of important changes to increase the role of parents and the independence of the school.

"Aided [schools], based on existing voluntary-aided schools, would... continue to be able to employ staff, develop an admissions policy in partnership with the LEA, hold the school assets in trust and receive capital grants to cover 85 per cent of their cost. Changes ... would include the development of the role of parents."

"Foundation schools will offer a new bridge between the powers available to secular and church schools. They will offer greater flexibility and devolution within the local management system as part of the local democratic framework. Building on voluntary-controlled schools, the foundation schools would have an opportunity to develop within the local education system the ethos which many grant-maintained schools feel they have developed."

"Fair selection:

"Our opposition to academic selection has always been clear. But... change [comes] only through local agreement. Such change in the character of the school would only follow a clear demonstration of support from the parents affected by such decisions."