Fair stands the wind for education?

13th May 2005 at 01:00
So it's forward, not back. At least that is Tony Blair's plan. Yet, as Labour enters a historic third term, though with a greatly reduced mandate, the Blairite project to transform public education is in some disarray. The facts are these. The Labour backbench is restless, eager to rein in new Labour's impatience to use the market and private sector know-how to improve state schools. Senior Cabinet members are letting it be known they would like Mr Blair to stand down within 18 months. Meanwhile Gordon Brown, now clearly prime-minister-in-waiting, bides his time.

Mr Blair's attempt to show he is ready to implement a radical agenda to tackle school failure has got off to a wobbly start with a botched reshuffle of his education team. Ruth Kelly remains as Education Secretary, but has been forced to accept Andrew Adonis, Mr Blair's powerful Downing Street adviser, as a junior minister. Despite some fresh faces, including a welcome return for Jacqui Smith, as Ms Kelly's nominal deputy, this is not a happy ship.

But the newly-enobled Lord Adonis should not be regarded as a Jonah: a bringer-of-bad-luck to be thrown overboard at dead of night. Although we do not share his enthusiasm for discretionary university fees, or his nostalgia for the days of direct-grant grammar schools, he is a genuine campaigner for better opportunities for working-class children. We share his view that comprehensives, though largely successful elsewhere in the country, have too often failed children in urban communities because of the postcode lottery which leads to selection by house price. He now has an opportunity to engage directly with teachers and school leaders. Mr Blair has promised to listen and learn and so must he.

The TES remains supportive of Labour's broadly progressive agenda which, as we said on the eve of the election, has brought much-needed investment to schools. But we are nervous. The Good Ship Education is embarking with some haste on a new voyage - and with a makeshift crew. Where is it going? It's hard to say.

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