Labour vision with Tory echoes

13th January 2006 at 00:00
If you think you have heard the phrase "independent state schools" before, you are right - it appeared 17 years ago in an essay written by a Conservative education adviser.

Stuart Sexton, the man who first championed the phrase, was amused when he heard the Prime Minister uttering the words.

"I shouted at the television, 'Oi! That's my policy!,'" said the former special adviser to Sir Keith Joseph and Mark Carlisle, Conservative education secretaries.

The 71-year-old penned the phrase in an essay in 1989 for the Cambridge institute of education newsletter entitled "Towards Independent State Schools".

He wrote then that he saw grant-maintained schools and city technology colleges, the forerunner of academies, as steps towards non-fee-paying independent state schools.

Seventeen years later the words "independent state schools" regularly trip off the tongues of Tony Blair and Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, in speeches about academies and trust schools.

The phrase also appears three times in the Prime Minister's foreword to the education white paper.

And that is not the only similarity between Mr Sexton's essay and new Labour's plans for education reform.

Mr Sexton, like the white paper, suggested giving schools greater freedom to manage their staff and resources and using parental pressure to improve standards.

The similarities were spotted by Ron Glatter, a visiting education professor at the Open university and Warwick university. Writing in today's TES, he says: "Every time I saw the phrase 'independent state school' I thought I had come across it before."

Mr Sexton believes Labour's plans are a poor reflection of his vision.

He now provides occasional advice for David Cameron, the Tory leader, who has pledged to back the reforms and urged Mr Blair to go even further.

* michael.shaw@tes.co.uk

Ron Glatter, Opinion 23

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