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'Post-comprehensive' plans condemned

Tony Blair heralded the start of a new "post-comprehensive" era in secondary education with the launch of Labour's five-year education plan this week, writes Sarah Cassidy.

Mr Blair said he would replace the culture of uniformity in secondary education with schools which had "a distinctive mission, ethos and purpose" where diversity would be "not the exception but the hallmark of secondary education".

But teachers' leaders reacted with anger to the Government spin put on the proposals, saying they caricatured the reality of comprehensive schools. They were infuriated by the declaration by Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's official spokesman, that "the day of the bog-standard comprehensive is over".

Labour backbenchers accused the Government of betraying the party's traditional values, saying that "selection by aptitude, ability, race, religion and class is inherently divisive in society".

Nine Labour MPs - led by left-wigers Tony Benn and Dennis Skinner - expressed their "grave disappointment" at the planned changes.

The plans include:

* 1,500 secondaries to become specialist colleges by 2006. New specialisms in science, engineering and business and enterprise;

* more church schools, beacon schools, Excellence in Cities areas;

* Government to make a larger contribution towards the building costs of church schools;

* more business involvement in running failing schools on fixed-term contracts;

* a three-year time-limit for Fresh Start schools to succeed;

* new pilot of radical intervention in the most challenging circumstances. Ten pilot schools in the most disadvantaged areas will receive extra funding to cut class sizes;

* recruitment and retention package includes paying off some teachers' student loans over 10 years if they stay in the state sector.

The consultation on the Green Paper runs until June 1.

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