Labour in two minds on inclusion

2nd April 2004 at 01:00
If the Government's education policy were a person there would be serious concerns about his or her mental health. With 10 Downing Street and various ministers pursuing contradictory measures, there is certainly evidence of a multiple personality disorder if not full-blown schizophrenia.

Labour promised to limit selection. Well, actually it promised to end selection but "no selection under Labour" morphed into "no more selection".

In fact it has overseen most of the 35 per cent increase in grammar school places over the past decade. In contrast, the previous 10 years under the Conservatives saw grammar school numbers fall.

Yet curiously, when The TES revealed these surprising figures last week, education ministers seemed reluctant to welcome this triumph of official Labour "choice and diversity" policy. You don't need to be Sigmund Freud to detect clinical symptoms of denial in this.

Now the Government that pledged to raise standards for all by reducing the gap between the best and worst achieving schools is to expand its new academies. It appears to be on the verge of recreating the same sort of directly-funded schools independent of local influence and able to pursue their own advantage that it abolished when it ended grant-maintained status in 1998.

Like grammar schools, academies are unlikely vehicles for equalising opportunity. All children are entitled to a good start in life. What a few academies promise is the privileged start some parents feel entitled to expect for their children. Downing Street's aim is to retain the votes of ambitious parents determined to laager up in order to avoid the worst results of a selfish and unequal society from which they, for the most part, have benefitted.

Their academies are the educational equivalent of the private housing estates gated and walled to keep out the riff-raff.

Ministers will say they are in favour of a decent education for all, and continue to call on schools to collaborate to raise the game of the weakest. But academies are likely to have precisely the opposite effect.

With better funding they are able to attract the best staff and more able or better-behaved and motivated pupils, leaving other schools less well-equipped for an even tougher job.

When the me-first classes are encouraged to circle their wagons, those left on the outside face an even more uphill task to educate those who know all about diversity, and its cousin adversity, but who have precious little choice. Every child matters, the Green Paper said. And the reward promised for heads and teachers who battle on to provide educational opportunities for all is a more understanding and intelligent accountability regime. Yet the experience in some schools now seems to be of an inspection regime returning to its vicious and destructive past.

With its push-me, pull-you policies, the Government that promised us greater social inclusion seems determined to pursue social exclusion through education.

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