A battle for standards

5th October 2007 at 01:00
With a general election imminent, it is time to ask which party will win the battle for hearts and minds on education?

This week, the Conservatives set out their pre-election stall. Eye-catching policies included promising teachers accused of abusing pupils the right to anonymity until the case is settled and giving heads powers to exclude pupils without having their decisions overturned by outside bodies.

The party also pledged to end the "dogmatic policy of forced inclusion", building on Tory leader David Cameron's commitment to stop closing special schools. Many teachers will welcome these plans.

The Tories' problem is that they still give the impression of a privileged, backward-looking party obsessed with grammar schools. Easing restrictions to encourage private companies and others to set up state schools will only feed fears of a return to selection. Nor do predictable attacks on the "educational establishment" help matters.

The real educational challenge is to tackle variations in achievement between schools with similar intakes. Labour is commited to this agenda which is far more likely to mean improvements for all pupils. Whoever forms the next government should expect high standards, provide the investment needed, and give schools freedom to deliver.

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