Right heaps praise on Labour

31st October 1997 at 00:00
A seismic shift in policy by the Labour government has made education an ideology-free zone, according to the free-market Adam Smith Institute.

Dr Madsen Pirie, president of the institute named after the founding father of laissez-faire economics, says he believes in the Labour government policies for improved standards and praised Tony Blair for taking the politics out of education.

A conference held by the institute this week brought together trade union leaders, business, Stephen Dorrell, the Opposition education spokesman, Labour and Conservative MPs and academics from across the spectrum.

Speaking after the conference Dr Pirie said: "There has been a convergence in ideas and the great change that has made this position possible is a move by the Labour party away from its instinctive bias, away from public sector unions to the consumers' interests.

"This seismic shift is part of the revolution which has produced New Labour.

"It aspires to be part of the whole nation and has done so by abandoning its old sectional interests."

He said the defining point was the decision by Tony Blair to send his son to the grant-maintained London Oratory: "He was saying, I want the best for my children, and ignored attacks from the Left. We can all understand that. "

Labour's shift to the Right has been the greatest cause of the convergence, he said, although Conservatives are also changing. He said the previous government had seemed to set itself against the teaching profession which led to a running battle between the two. "Conservatives are now recognising the concerns of the profession," he said.

The institute has recently brought together a group of education specialists from the Right and New Labour with the brief of finding ways to make England the best in the world in education. It intends to set benchmarks and objective targets and will look at ways to achieve and raise the nation from its lowly position in international tables.

An ideology-free education does not mean a disagreement-free education, said Dr Pirie. For example a discussion of the role of local education authorities may still provoke opposing views, he said, but they would not be based on ideological grounds. "The discussion will be about the method of delivering higher standards and how to measure standards," he said.

He also believes that New Labour has carried the teacher unions with it.

But Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, warned: "The danger is that so far New Labour has failed to capture the hearts and the minds of teachers. Its agenda may be winning friends in the strangest of places, but it still needs the infantry - teachers in the classroom - to make it work."

Conference speakers included John Marks, the traditionalist former member of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, and Michael Barber of the government's Standards and Effectiveness Unit.

Leader, page18

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