'New' policies are strangely familiar

9th July 2004 at 01:00
As an exercise to grab the attention of the media and public the Government's five-year strategy for education has been an undoubted success.

For two weeks before yesterday's launch, newspapers have trailed elements of the strategy. Good schools will be rewarded with greater autonomy and expand to give parents' greater choice, while shiny new academies will be created.

These headlines are good news for a government still struggling to turn the nation's attention away from Iraq.

But on the more important question of whether the strategy will benefit England's schools, the jury is still out.

For one thing, there appears to have been little examination of how the different policies will impact on each other. One senior figure from a think-tank sympathetic to new Labour describes the process as a "brain dump" - a mish-mash of unco-ordinated, and even conflicting ideas.

How, for example, will freedom for successful schools to alter pay and conditions fit in with a workforce agreement which sets clear rules about what teachers can and cannot be expected to do?

And can the notion of "excellence for all" survive the creation of a multi-tier secondary system in which academies, foundation schools and bog-standard specialists all vie to attract the best pupils?

The confusion is a direct result of disagreement between Downing Street and the Department for Education and Skills about key policy goals.

The more inclusive, co-operative approach, favoured by Education Secretary Charles Clarke, has been pushed to one side in favour of a strategy designed to tackle Tony Blair's concern that middle-class parents are migrating to the private sector.

Weekend press stories suggesting that Mr Clarke could be dumped in the next reshuffle were a shot across his bows - a reminder of who is boss.

But Mr Blair's victory is far from final. Many of these ideas have been proposed before and then quietly shelved (see below).

We wait to see whether the latest strategy will have a big impact on the ground or merely form part of Labour's pre-election strategy.

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