Control freak Blair will never free schools

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
I can only assume that it is the brevity of Anthony Seldon's piece "Hurrah for Blair, the great liberator" (TES, January 20) that causes such a strong sense of naivety and smugness to be conveyed.

He asks us to support independence for secondary education because of the "truly world-class" independent sector that he implies is a model for state secondary education.

Yet he shows no awareness of the factors that allow independent schools to top league tables and produce high-achieving men and women: the ability to select who will attend and exclude those who don't fit; the fact they deal with the children of the wealthy and famous and spend up to four or five times the amount per pupil state schools do. Such advantages cannot be replicated in state schools, however independent they become.

I am in fact in favour of secondary schools being independent in many ways, but this cannot include control of admissions.

Such control works in the independent sector because state schools take the children it would not touch with a bargepole. One has only to look at the exclusion statistics for many academies to see how independence works against inclusion.

If the Every Child Matters agenda is serious, there are major implications of removing schools from the strategic planning of local authorities, who are seeking to address in a coherent way the deprivation and low aspirations that blight many children's lives.

Reservations some school leaders have may arise out of a sense of this, rather than out of cowardice.

What makes me angry about Dr Seldon's article is the sycophantic support for Tony Blair whose premiership has been characterised by coercion.

Since 1997, we have suffered an onslaught of initiatives that have heaped responsibilities on local authorities and schools and established control of education by central government. We have battalions of consultants employed to promote national strategies, taking good teachers out of classrooms; we have armies of administrators to manage the empire; and of course we have Ofsted to ensure that we all conform to the crushing orthodoxy imposed by No 10.

We cannot be anything but cynical about Blair's claim that he wishes to promote independence when the evidence of his past leadership so emphatically contradicts it.

It is under this Government, after all, that we have had the absurdity of having to apply to be innovative!

Kevin O'Regan Headteacher Wolverley high school, Kidderminster, Worcestershire

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