Scotland and the Blair factor

13th May 2005 at 01:00
The results of the Westminster election, with Labour returned for a historic third successive term, may be of mere passing, academic interest as far as Scottish education is concerned. It is safe in Scottish parliamentary hands, it may appear. But it would be short-sighted to ignore some of the implications. Despite restlessness on the Labour backbenches about the involvement of the private sector in state schools, Tony Blair made his radical intentions clear by elevating (and ennobling) his powerful education adviser Andrew Adonis to be a junior minister in the Department for Education and Science. The resistance to this move from Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary Blair wanted to switch to another job, is well known.

Clearly, the DfES is not a happy ship. Meanwhile Gordon Brown, now clearly prime-minister-in-waiting, bides his time.

But Lord Adonis should not be regarded as a Jonah, a bringer-of-bad-luck to be thrown overboard at dead of night. Although we do not share his enthusiasm for discretionary university fees, or his nostalgia for the days of direct grant grammar schools, he is a genuine campaigner for better opportunities for working-class children. We share his view that comprehensives have too often failed children in urban communities because of the postcode lottery which leads to selection by house price. He now has an opportunity to engage directly with teachers and school leaders. Mr Blair has promised to listen and learn, and so must he.

The implications for Scotland are not so clear. Jack McConnell and his ministers will no doubt continue to come under opposition and media pressure to emulate what is seen as an "action man" agenda from south of the border. That was clear in the Blair Government's second term, but should be resisted. The private sector is already involved in state schools in Scotland and will not go away (see our letters page). Just because the Executive's school modernisation programme is more subtle and measured does not mean it should have to conform to policies hatched for different circumstances in a different country. Devolution has to mean something.

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