LETTER : Education test for new Labour

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The Independent Online
From Mr Neil McIntosh

Sir: As the Labour Party heatedly debates the future of grant-maintained (GM) schools, it is worth asking what the fuss is all about.

To argue for abolishing GM schools because they are more generously funded seems perverse. Easier, surely, to equalise the funding. Opposition on the grounds that GM schools are undemocratic seems equally odd, except in the case of those socialists who believe all publicly funded provision should be undertaken by one monopoly supplier, which would destroy all housing associations and many other voluntary organisations.

The accusation that GM schools are selective is more difficult. Many of the schools that went grant maintained early on had no interest in becoming more selective. The main stimulus was the desire for control over their own resources and irritation at local authority inefficiency. There are GM schools that have been markedly successful in increasing local involvement and support.

But, typically for British politics, the debate on how schools should be organised has been pursued as if there are only two possible points of view. GM status, which had attracted the support of many people by no means on the right, was presented by the teaching unions and local authority bureaucracies as an exclusively right-wing device, a sort of privatisation by stealth. Of course, many Conservatives did support GM status to permit selection of pupils and that, coupled with the fact that the active support of this government has sounded the death knell of many sound ideas in recent years, has made the criticisms of the left a self- fulfilling prophecy. Only those with a strong ideological drive are likely to be prepared to face the quite ridiculous degree of opprobrium that a declared wish to go grant maintained will attract.

If I were likely to be offered a job in Westminster in the near future and knew that job would give me minimal time to be with my children and would put them under very unusual pressure, I would be deeply disappointed by colleagues who criticised me for sending those children to the best state school available in that area. Similarly, if I were the parent of a child at a school which, without changing its pupil intake, had improved hugely since going GM, I would find it hard to forgive any political party that risked destroying what had been achieved.

Yours faithfully,

Neil McIntosh

Chief Executive

CFBT Education Services

Reading, Berkshire

2 October