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Blair's broken promise

Parents complain that Iraq has replaced education as PM's priority. Michael Shaw reports on results of TES survey

Parents believe Tony Blair has failed to make education his top priority because he has been distracted by the war in Iraq.

Before Labour came to power in 1997 Mr Blair famously pledged that the party's three priorities in government would be "education, education, education".

But an exclusive TES poll has found that eight out of 10 parents feel that he not made education his top concern since the last election.

Asked what they thought Mr Blair's main priority had been, only 15 per cent said education, behind Iraq (40 per cent) and the war on terrorism (18 per cent). The findings from the poll of 1,000 parents in England and Wales come as Labour prepares for its annual conference, which begins in Brighton this weekend.

But a Downing Street spokeswoman said: "Education remains at the top of our agenda and the combination of investment and reform and the hard work of teachers and headteachers is showing results."

She added that the Government's five-year plan for education focuses on raising achievement still further.

Tim Collins, Conservative education spokesman, said: "No one can seriously argue that education has been the main priority of Tony Blair's second term. Labour has lost its way badly on education."

The TES poll shows support for Labour and Tory plans to give parents and schools more power. Most parents felt that they had too little say over how schools were run and that ministers interfered too much. They also believed heads should get more power.

However, the survey by FDS International also indicated that parents would be unhappy with several education policies put forward by the Tories.

The Conservatives propose that all schools should be allowed to make their own decisions about admissions. Michael Howard, the Tory leader, has also suggested support for an expansion in the number of schools selecting by academic ability.

But the TES survey shows that parents are overwhelmingly opposed to selection by ability Rather than give places to the cleverest children, parents think popular schools should give priority to those who live close by. Only 12 per cent felt that schools should admit whoever they chose.

The Tories have also promised that they would take a tougher stance on misbehaviour. They propose putting decisions about expulsions in the hands of headteachers and scrapping exclusion appeals panels.

But this move would also be unpopular with parents. More than 60 per cent of those polled said they wanted to retain their right to appeal.

At the heart of Labour and Tory education policies are plans to curb local authority power.

While Labour intends to make hundreds more secondary schools independent, the Conservatives want to go further and remove nearly all education authority functions. However, most parents supported their local authorities. More said councils deserved a greater say in schools than said they needed less.

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