Mark Lehain, principal of Bedford Free School and Michael Gove supporter, writes:
“I entered teaching halfway through the Blair era. As a maths teacher, lots of my PGCE was based upon the numeracy and KS3 maths strategies. I still have a few of the folders and resource packs in my office at home.
“These, and other initiatives rolled out under Blair’s five education secretaries, must have cost a fortune to develop. I recall thinking at the time that some of the accompanying training was brilliant, and there were some great ideas within them – but it is telling that the ringbinders have lasted far longer than the initiatives that they contained.
“They chanted ‘standards, not structures’, but the Blair government endlessly tinkered with school oversight.
“They scrapped grant maintained status; later, realising what a mistake this was, Blair reintroduced much of the system with the academies programme. And don’t forget federations, soft and hard trusts, ‘Education Action Zones’ – you name it, schools had them all.
“Oh, and the money that we had to spend on all of this! A long-serving head recently said to me: ‘From 1997, I never bothered to look at the next year’s finances properly until after the spring Budget, as I knew they’d always find extra money for schools.’
“Spending rocketed, as did pay packets and pensions. Through this, and the high-profile speeches that he gave again and again, no one can deny that Blair thought education, education, education was important.
“However, my overwhelming take on the era is one of wasted opportunities. Schools and staff did really well – just look at our sites and salaries compared to 1997. But our students? I’m not so sure.
“The curriculum was watered down again and again. For instance, we had four GCSE maths specifications between 2002 and 2010, each less challenging than the one before. Our proud system of vocational qualifications was damaged under the banner of “equivalence”. League tables and gaming became prevalent – Btec sport worth four GCSEs anyone?
“And while inclusion and attendance were (rightly) prioritised, standards of behaviour suffered as schools lived under the constant threat of sanctions and exclusions being overturned on appeal.
“So while I’d give Blair an A* for effort, it would have to be a D for execution. Overall then, it’s B- for Blair.”