So, what of Brown's schooldays?

20th October 2006 at 01:00
What happens to targets , assessments and league tables if Gordon becomes Prime Minister?

What can schools expect from a Brown government? The usually tight-lipped Chancellor broke his silence earlier this month, urging teachers to do more for under-achieving boys. Nevertheless, on Tony Blair's education reforms he has remained characteristically reticent. Many teachers are baffled.

What would Gordon Brown, Prime Minister, do for them?

Advisers to the Chancellor are finding themselves increasingly in demand over the coming months as heads in the private and state sectors seek to mug up on Brown. His biographers, William Keegan and Tom Bower, will be speaking at a conference on the future of education at Wellington College, Berkshire next month.

While little is known of Mr Brown's schooldays, there are some intriguing and not to say telling details. Raised on Scotland's controversial "E-stream" project, Brown was plucked from primary school at the age of 10, and placed on an experimental "fast-track" scheme at Kirkcaldy high, Fife.

It aimed to take a generation of bright youngsters and groom them into a national elite.

It was an experience that left him deeply suspicious of all forms of segregation.

"I was lucky and passed," he wrote in an essay in 1967, aged just 16. "But many of my friends met with dismal failure, despair and a sense of uselessness."

Tom Bower, author of a less-than-favourable biography of the Chancellor, argues that Brown is privately hostile to many aspects of Tony Blair's education reforms. He said: "It is an attempt to restore selection and elitism to education, and he's very antagonistic to that. He's an egalitarian. Partly motivated by political reasons and partly out of personal spite. The Scottish experience is crucial here."

And the Chancellor, unlike his privately educated rival, has little sympathy with the concerns of comfortably-off families disenchanted with the state sector.

Bower said: "He's totally out of touch with the problems of London and the inner city, and he doesn't understand how the aspiring middle classes feel they are being let down by poor institutions." He believes this will lead to a demotion of the trust schools project. While it is unlikely Mr Brown will dismantle Mr Blair's hard-won reforms altogether (the latest raft of legislation hits the statute books in November) it may mean curtains for Lord Adonis, the ultra-Blairite schools minister.

On the targets front, can teachers expect a let-up in the seemingly endless barrage of goals and assessments? Unfortunately, no. Mr Brown is widely regarded as equally, if not more, goals-obsessed than the Prime Minister and has presided over an era of unsurpassed target-mongering at the Treasury. Critics also see him as a natural centraliser, with an unshakable confidence in the beady eye of the state.

At Labour conference the Chancellor pledged to make the UK "number one" for education, and promised to bring spending on state school pupils up to Pounds 8,000 per annum, the level of their privately-educated counterparts.

Ken Allen, a science teacher at Springwell community school in Derbyshire, is keeping an open mind. He said: "I wouldn't like to say what Gordon Brown's views on education are. I don't think anybody knows. I hope that if he comes in, he gives more funding to work-related training.

Opportunities have broadened tremendously for pupils in the last few years, but schools need more support."

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