Tories in schools policy shift

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The Independent Online
The Conservatives' championing of increased academic selection in schools, a key commitment in the last election, has been jettisoned, it emerged last night.

In an address to the moderate Conservative Education Association, Stephen Dorrell, the party's education spokesman, made no mention of selection, nor of former prime minister John Major's dream of a grammar school in every town.

Instead, he used his first major policy speech since the party's defeat to signal an intention to drop some unpopular, ideology-driven elements of past policy in favour of a fresh, more consensual approach.

Giving the RA Butler memorial lecture to the Conservative Education Association at the Carlton Club in London, Mr Dorrell picked up the tone of party leader William Hague in calling for a new start.

Just as Rab Butler, a former Tory education secretary, had ensured that the Conservative Party learnt the lessons of its 1945 defeat and "presented a completely different face to the electorate by 1950", so Mr Hague was rightly stressing "the importance for today's Conservative Party of being inclusive and forward-looking". As it had after the war, the party shared with Labour a consensus around the principle of state-funded schools and health care, Mr Dorrell said.

Though Tories should remain sceptical of the Government's move to increase the role of local education authorities in the drive to raise school standards, that did not mean they "must defend every aspect of the structures we introduced; still less that we should instantly commit ourselves to introducing themselves in every detail", he said.