Blair's local loyalties in doubt

Geraldine Hackett

Tony Blair this week cast doubt on whether Labour remains committed to neighbourhood comprehensives. In an interview with Today newspaper, in which the Labour leader defends his decision to send his son, Euan, to a grant-maintained school, he says middle-class parents will always thwart any system that forces them to send their children to a local school they consider poor.

The Blair family's decision to send 11-year-old Euan eight miles from his home in Islington, north London, to the London Oratory has caused Labour political embarrassment. The school selects pupils on the basis of interviews designed to assess whether the parents' aims, attitudes and values are in harmony with the school's.

In the Today interview, Mr Blair concedes that there is evidence of social selection in school admissions, but he insists that the important thing is to raise standards.

Asked whether admission should be on the basis of ability and interview, he says it is wrong to end up having no proper rules of entrance, so that certain schools return to the worst days of social selection. However, he adds: "I don't think you can say that all children are to go to the school next door, good or bad, because middle-class parents who can afford to do so will move house." Labour's existing admissions policy is that oversubscribed comprehensives should choose pupils on the basis of distance.

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