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Monday, December 19, 2005

All-out war in Labour's ranks

Although the Government's Education White Paper will have few ramifications for Wales, the all-out war it has provoked amongst Labour MPs continues to provoke headlines. Today, it is the turn of the Deputy Prime Minister, who has refused to retract his outspoken concerns about the impact of the reforms:

Since Mr Prescott voiced his doubts about Ruth Kelly's new education white paper in cabinet last month it has been an open secret that the 11-plus failure, who attended Ruskin College, Oxford, as a mature student, shares many of the concerns voiced by the former education secretary, Estelle Morris, and more than 50 Labour MPs.

As loyalist MPs defended the Blair plan, Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland secretary, welcomed "healthy debate" and Douglas Alexander, the Europe minister and Brown ally, said the outcome would be "informed by the discussions that we have with parliamentary colleagues".

In the interview Mr Prescott flagged up worry about the reduced role of local education authorities if schools opt to become trust schools, controlling their own admissions policy.

Like the rebels, he wants the admissions code for England's 4,500 secondary schools to become statutory so schools cannot ignore it and hoover up motivated pupils who rush to attend good schools. City academies could become the new grammar schools, he explained.

"Since I was an 11-plus failure, since I do believe that produced a 'first-class/second-class' education system, I fear this is a framework that may do the same. I'm somewhat critical of it," said Mr Prescott.

John Prescott has put his finger on the main problem with the White Paper, namely that it puts choice before quality, ideology before the interests of children. What is worse is that the choice on offer is that for the best schools to cherry-pick the brightest kids. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds will be left out in the cold.

It is now looking increasingly likely that the only way that Blair will get these reforms through will be with the help of the Tories. That must be a grim prospect for many Labour activists as it will be for those gungho Conservatives who would rather inflict defeat on the Prime Minister than assist him in advancing the New Labour project.
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