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Personal attacks just lose friends and alienate people

A key strand was missing in the debate between Fiona Millar and Toby Young. A number of parent-run schools based on different pedagogical approaches have been established in this country by parents wanting a more child-centred and holistic education than is offered within the state system. These alternatives represent a vision of education that differs starkly from the target-driven, test-based state-school model.

In countries such as Denmark and Holland, a wide range of alternatives - Steiner, Montessori, Freinet, Jenaplan, Grundtvig, to name a few, and many of which are founded by parents - are publicly funded and, as a consequence, keep alive a meaningful dialogue about what education is for. What we need in this country are neither Mr Young's outdated quasi-grammar schools nor Ms Millar's 1,000-pupil comprehensives, but smaller, human-scale learning environments in which young people can be known and valued as individuals and can experience a curriculum that is geared to their needs and interests.

It is time to encourage new forms of education. If parents, young people, teachers and local communities are all involved in the debate about what these might look like, there is a good chance we will end up with centres of learning that are fit for purpose in contemporary society.

Fiona Carnie, Visiting research associate, Institute of Education, London.

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