Blair blasts class-ridden institutions

2nd February 1996 at 00:00
Geraldine Hackett reports on the Labour party's efforts to get back on top of the education agenda, while Soraya Madell finds an improbable Harriet Harman supporter in Tottenham's black MP Bernie Grant.

Tony Blair this week attempted to regain the initiative on education by insisting comprehensive schools could adopt measures to accelerate the progress of brighter students.

The Labour leader praised schools that allowed pupils to move ahead of their year group in line with particular abilities or interests. And in what was perhaps the first foreshadowing of a financial commitment, he also promised Labour would look at ways it could organise and fund a national network of pre-school and after-school homework centres around the country.

The opportunity to set out what Mr Blair considers the essential differences between Labour and the Conservatives was provided by his lecture in the Faith in the City series run by the churches. He told the audience in Southwark Cathedral that Labour believes the advancement of individuals is dependent upon people working together in a community.

Labour, he said, was committed to a society in which people advance through merit and not birth. "The blunt truth is that Britain is still, after all these years, a place where class counts, where the best do not always come through, and whose institutions reinforce a sense of us as a country living in our past not learning from it."

In terms of education, Mr Blair suggested it was time to transcend old structures. Labour was refusing to go back to the 11-plus, but also refusing to make do with uniformity.

Instead, Mr Blair saw much to commend in a system that allowed accelerated learning in any subject in which a pupil shows talent.

"This does not mean 12-year-olds suddenly becoming sixth-formers, but it does mean bright children being stretched instead of being bored in subjects where they have particular aptitude,"he said.

Mr Blair insisted it was important to break down the rigidity in the system that assumes all pupils learn at the same speed in different subjects. The Labour leader also urged an expansion of homework centres for children who lack facilities to work at home.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today