Letter: Labour's plans for 'fairness and opportunity' in education

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The Independent Online
Sir: It is a shame that Roy Hattersley should choose to misunderstand and misinterpret the education document Diversity and Excellence ("Labour's big, bad idea", 22 June). It beggars belief that a politician of his stature should pen an article so riddled with inaccuracies and false assumptions. Let us examine three of his major errors.

He writes that "the Labour Party will repudiate the principle of comprehensive education". On the contrary, Tony Blair reaffirmed our commitment to that principle at today's document launch. Roy has a particular definition of how that principle ought to be applied; many would argue that it does not fit with contemporary educational reality.

Another charge is that the document "accepts the divisions which disfigure secondary education". This is a distortion of our position. We are concerned that all schools - primary and secondary - should be governed by four principles: namely, that funding must be fair and open; admission procedures fair, with no return to selection through the 11-plus; and that they must be accountable locally and nationally. These are underpinned by the principle of all schools being responsible for their own management. This is a recipe for diversity and excellence, not division and disfigurement, as Roy suggested.

Finally, Roy claims that "Labour is endorsing selection ... and its authors know it". The first part is self-evidently wrong by his own account; the second is a gratuitous insult to the months of work and consultation engaged in by the Labour Education team and is, frankly, unworthy.

For the suggestion is that we have engaged in a massive confidence trick on "thousands of Party members (who) have campaigned for years against the creation of special status schools". As one of the latter, I can assure him that fairness and opportunity for all of our children is central to our thinking, as it is for those others who have campaigned in education. Their reaction will be the litmus test of our vision for the future, not the acerbic views of the Rt Hon Member for Birmingham Sparkbrook.

Yours faithfully,


MP for Liverpool Walton (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

22 June

The writer is Labour spokesman for schools.