Blairites blamed for council U-turn

Clare Dean

The Labour-led London local authority where the Prime Minister's son is educated withdrew at the last minute a critical response to Government plans for grant-maintained schools.

The original response to the Government's White Paper from Hammersmith and Fulham was critical of the proposal to create foundation, community and aided schools. It was dropped from the agenda of last month's education committee meeting by Andrew Slaughter, the Blairite council leader, amid Conservative claims he was under pressure to do so by the Government.

A new version backing ministers' plans for three types of schools, including one to replace the GM sector, has now been submitted to the Government.

Like many councils , Hammersmith and Fulham's original response to Excellence in Schools had suggested that GM schools should be forced to choose only between church and council control.

But the issue is sensitive in the borough because it involves the future of the London Oratory, the GM school attended by Euan Blair.

John McIntosh, headteacher, has now said that aided status is likely to be the most appropriate for his school.

Angela Clarke, the Tory education spokesman on Hammersmith and Fulham, said that once there was a whiff of controversy Labour spin doctors went into action.

Gerald Wombwell, Conservative leader, said: "I have never known, in 15 years of being on the council, a report being withdrawn by diktat from national politicians."

Mr Slaughter, the New Labour loyalist who failed to win the Uxbridge by-election in the summer, denied he had been put under pressure: "The report was withdrawn and rewritten because parts had been misinterpreted by the (council) opposition, not as a result of any Government pressure."

Originally the council had voiced concern about the perceived advantages of foundation status. It said: "It is suggested that a way of dealing with this would be just to have two categories of schools, community and aided."

In the second, amended version, it said: "We would agree with the principle 'standards matter more than structures' and therefore would not wish to oppose the three categories."

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