So long and thanks for all the cash

18th May 2007 at 01:00
WE HEARD him before we saw him, as two enormous rotor blades cut through the grey Midlands sky. It was a pop star arrival for the education leg of the Tony Blair farewell tour. No matter that only a handful of rain-sodden pupils and staff had assembled to greet the two Royal Navy helicopters touching down on Northampton academy's playing fields.

Schools are one area where the Prime Minister really believes he has made a difference - and he is determined not to let us forget it.

Many agree. Jo Pattison, a citizenship teacher at the academy who came through the graduate teacher programme, would not have her school, training or subject without the Blair government.

And she cannot think of any negatives: "The restrictions have gone. We are able to tackle individual pupils' needs now and that is such a benefit."

Apart from his desire to have 300 trust schools "in the pipeline" - so far 209 have actually applied - the Prime Minister had no new policies to announce. The day-long airborne tour also took in a primary in Greenwich, east London; a trust school in Halesowen, Dudley; a Worksop children's centre; and a further education college in Manchester.

Two glossy brochures had even been produced to commemorate the occasion.

The first, "Better Buildings, Better Design, Better Education" consisted of colour pictures of snazzy new schools accompanied by statistics about the millions spent since Mr Blair first uttered the immortal mantra:

"Education, education, education". "A decade on, this report shows we meant it," he writes in its foreward.

His speech in Northampton restated his aspiration for there to be 400 academies - also the subject of the second brochure, which encourages more independent schools to convert.

It is a goal that Gordon Brown has yet to back explicitly, but that did not stop an exhausted-looking, - and sounding - Prime Minister from going even further. "In the future, all schools in the country will probably become either academies or trust schools," he croaked.

And anyone under the impression that academies were simply rebranded versions of the Conservatives' city technology colleges was invited to think again. "The academy programme was an idea that I had," Mr Blair said.

Speaking afterwards to The TES, he said that his proudest education achievement had been to break up the "completely old fashioned" monolithic public services structure with trust schools and academies, supported by extra funding.

At Northampton academy, he was among friends. Peter Hullah, principal and former Bishop of Ramsbury, said he would not have become a state school head without the freedoms offered by academies. "Your presence pioneering the academy movement makes a significant difference," he said.

With a catch in his voice, the Prime Minister responded: "It is a real honour and a privilege to see all this, which came from an idea I had sitting in Downing Street. It is very moving."

As he left, he passed the demolition site of the predecessor school. It was only opened 25 years ago. Mr Blair clearly believes his schools legacy will last much, much longer.

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