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PM's vision revisited

PERHAPS the most striking aspect of Tony Blair's picture of British education as we enter the third millennium is the sense that we have only just begun. While practitioners may complain that the Government seems hyperactive - churning out policies and paper in a never-ending stream - Blair believes we are only at the threshold of understanding what education can do.

The Government's aim - in emphasising that its foremost national purpose is to raise standards in education - is, at bottom, economic. The Prime Minister makes it very clear that Britain cannot compete with low-wage economies, but needs to specialise in higher-order skills.

But Old Labour idealism is not dead; the achievement of deprived and disadvantaged children comes high on the list of Government ambitions, and Mr Blair even seems to believe that our deeply embedded structure of social class can at last, through education, be uprooted - or at any rate ameliorated.

Many may be sceptical as to whether this can really be achieved. But the evidence of the past two-and-a-half years, sketchy as it is, suggests that academic performance, at least, has improved. If this results in more public approbation fo teachers, and more investment is waiting in the wings, we may see a sudden surge in confidence and optimism among a profession which has become a byword for disenchantment and low morale.

Certainly the Prime Minister holds fast to his vision of energetic and dynamic teachers transforming the life-chances of thousands of young people. Those who see themselves as not much more than exhausted drudges may feel like sneering. But they should pause and consider the alternative.

What dream of the future currently holds sway in the nation's staffrooms? Is there a competing, equally-compelling view of the role schools should play in our society, and of what they should be offering our young people? If so, it would be good to hear it articulated.

The Government, as its vision develops more focus and coherence, is at last beginning to listen - both to heads, and to classroom teachers. We know that other countries are watching the Blair experiment with interest. Teachers who remain sceptical should take a fresh look at what is going on - and get stuck into the debate. Because it's pretty clear that a "modernised" system, on the Blair model, is the only show in town.

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