Baby, you've got a long way to go

4th May 2001 at 01:00
May Day was a testing time, not only for London's police force who were either heavy-handed or heroes, depending on which report you read but for David Blunkett.

The Education Secretary chose the day when disparate groups of anti-capitalist and anarchist protesters invaded the capital to give what amounted to a farewell address to the Institute for Public Policy Research.

To the delight of the Daily Telegraph, he appeared to herald a return to the 1944 Education Act with his emphasis on vocational education for 14-year-olds. Or was he just demob happy?

And Labour is having a better press than the Conservatives despite foot-and-mouth outbreaks as William Hague lurches from one crisis to another.

The Tory leader's conciliatory speech in Bradford was marred by yet another MP airing his views on Britain's multi-racial society, provoking Lord Taylor, a rare breed of black Tory peer, to berate his boss for poor leadership.

In the meantime, Tony Blair unveiled his "big idea" for "baby bonds" which gave the weekend papers much to mull over. The nest egg, which should grow to around pound;800 for 18-year-olds, was either dismissed as a political gimmick (The Sunday Times), a cynic's offering to our infants (Sunday Telegraph), or a brilliant idea that will transform millions of young lives (Sun).

One Sunday Times pundit was quick to point out that the timing of the announcement was unfortunate. No sooner had the Prime Minister hailed the scheme as a step towads creating a meritocratic society, than his Cabinet Office's performance and innovation unit warned that he would need to raise inheritance and income tax and increase selection in state schools to achieve this goal.

"Without dramatic intervention, the cycle of inequality characterised by stalled social mobility could not be broken," said the PIU.

"When it comes to social mobility, what goes up tries very hard not to come down," observed David Walker in the Guardian.

Middle-class parents pay for private schools; move into catchment areas of good state schools; manipulate tax regimes; pull strings to get job interviews and network like mad.

On the same day, the Independent appositely reported an audit by the Department for Education and Employment which showed that some parents had "underestimated" their income by up to pound;15,000 in order to get reduced fees on the Assisted Places Scheme.

The state has probably paid at least pound;20 million too much towards the private school fees of children from better off families since the scheme was introduced in 1980.

But middle-class parents need look no further than the Daily Telegraph where Chris Woodhead and John Clare have produced the first of their four-part "definitive parents' guide to education". And they warn "these are certainly not dispassionate guides. Indeed, they could be said to have 'attitude'".

Dear me, such trendiness from these "unashamed" traditionalists.

Diane Spencer

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