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Spin hides few surprises

Rarely in the history of education journalism has so much been written about so little by so many.

"Death of the comprehensive," screamed the front page of the Daily Express last Friday after the launch of the Government's five-year education strategy.

Richard Garner in the Independent agreed. "Charles Clarke is quite right when he says that his five-year blueprint is one of the most significant events in education since the 1944 Education Act. Yesterday in effect buried Labour's erstwhile dream of comprehensives for all," he wrote.

This hyperbole was the culmination of two weeks of leaks and briefings that guaranteed education a high profile in the media.

First, the Westminster political journalists were thrown a few salacious titbits. Later, the education correspondents were spun parts of the five-year plan. Proposals to expand parental choice and free secondaries from council control dribbed and drabbed out in different papers.

But the start of the coverage was not to the Government's liking. It centred on reports of a row between Downing Street and education ministers over plans for 200 academies.

By last Friday, the excitement had reached fever pitch with the Daily Star proclaiming that "Labour want all kids to be Harry Potters", that is wear uniforms and be part of a "Hogwarts-style" house system.

But much of the coverage was overblown, if not downright wrong.

Take last Thursday's Daily Telegraph front page "Blair admits scandal of illiterate 11-year-olds." Readers may have been surprised if they later learned that many of these "illiterates" can read and write, even if not at the standard expected of them.

Two days earlier, journalists on The Times were also guilty of letting excitement (or perhaps government spin) get the better of them. "A century of partnership between central and local government will end with the removal of any town hall role in school funding," the paper proclaimed, on the same day Mr Clarke told MPs that LEAs would continue to distribute money to schools.

As for the "death of the comprehensive", it is true that the Government wants all secondary schools to become specialist. Indeed, Tony Blair said so as long ago as November 2002

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