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Blair 'not hung up about privatisation'

Chris Woodhead claims in a new book that civil servants and spin doctors tried to gag him. Warwick Mansell reports.

PRIME minister Tony Blair does not suffer from the same "ideological hang-ups" about privatising education as other ministers but his determination to push through reforms is in doubt, Chris Woodhead says in his new book to be published later this month.

He argues that Estelle Morris, the Education Secretary, lacks the strength to fight the education establishment, dismissed as "the Blob", over privatisation.

The Prime Minister is more enthusiastic. "Does Mr Blair really want to involve the private sector in education? In all probability he does. He does not suffer from the ideological hang-ups that afflict so many of his backbenchers and indeed ministers. Fine, but nothing will happen without his personal involvement."

Ms Morris's past performance, he writes, suggests that she is unlikely to to take on "the Blob". "Time and again it was Estelle Morris who took the decision not to contract out the services of local authorities failed by OFSTED."

In Mr Woodhead's ideal education system, parents would be given vouchers to spend at state or profit-making schools. Local education authorities, university teacher-training departments and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority would be abolished.

Standards would be safeguarded by the free market, league tables and inspections run by OFSTED.

The number of government initiatives would be scaled down, with private organisations responsible for managing those that remained.

"A private, for-profit industry must be developed to provide effective competition to schools. The anger and frustration at the failure of state schools to provide a satisfactory education is deepening by the day." More surprisingly the national curriculum, which Mr Woodhead helped introduce, would be scrapped.

He says the system is failing working-class children.For too long elites, including Tony Blair and former standards adviser Michael Barber, had spoken of the value of state education but taken their children out of local schools.

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