An impasse has been reached

3rd October 1997 at 01:00
Defeat is being blamed on the selection muddle as Tories prepare for next week's party conference. Jeremy Sutcliffe reports

Lord Skidelsky, the distinguished historian and biographer of John Maynard Keynes, is a leading light on the "Owenite" wing of the Conservative party. As a former member of the Social Democratic Party, he is a convert to the Tory cause and a radical supporter of opening up the public sector to the market.

While he does not think that education policies were responsible for the party's disastrous defeat, he does believe the policies need to change.

"The policies were too centralised and Labour has even increased that. I do not think those policies can work to raise standards. They need to rely much more on parental choice and market forces to raise standards.

"Stephen Dorrell is open-minded and intelligent and I think he realises that an impasse has been reached. The system needs to be deregulated, otherwise you will get resistance, from teachers and others."

He believes a number of pressures are building which will force both the main political parties to face up to the need to open up state education to private sources of funding in the future. While independent schools had responded to parental demands for better resources and smaller classes, the state sector had been held back by rising costs in the welfare budget. Top-up fees, now being introduced to pay for expansion in the university sector, could eventually be inevitable in the school sector, he says.

"It think it's unlikely at present. I think a more attractive policy - and it could well lead to that in the end - is to give schools independence. Turn them into charitable trusts. Then you could allow them to do things they are not allowed to do at the moment. It would also abolish the public-private sector divide. It would not abolish public funding, but would gradually lead to a mixed system."

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