Spin until dizzy

28th June 1996 at 01:00
I was puzzled to read in the press on June 7 that the Labour party was about to abandon 30 years of support for mixed-ability teaching. These reports, in advance of a speech by Tony Blair, were prominently featured on the front pages of many newspapers, and were reported as being an attempt to "ditch 'trendy' teaching theories espoused by Labour since the 1960s". A party education spokesperson hailed this move as a "revolution" on BBC Radio 4.

This is very curious, because as far as I know Labour has never had a policy of supporting mixed-ability teaching. It is certainly opposed to selection at 11-plus, but I am perplexed by the statement that it has ever opposed selection by ability within the school. This system, streaming, is used in every comprehensive school I know of. Not only would the party be ill advised to have a policy of mixed-ability teaching, it would almost certainly be illegal. The headteacher has sole control of teaching methods used within the school, and no party that I know of has ever tried to tell teachers how to teach.

The story may not simply be a matter of reporting a change of policy. It is widely believed by Conservative voters that Labour does support mixed-ability teaching, and so announcing that it does not may be a useful device for winning over Tory voters without any change of substance. In this context it it interesting to note that Peter Mandelson, Labour's campaign director, is reported to have given a special briefing to the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph the night before the story appeared. The story was featured on the front page of both papers, with the spin that this was a change in party policy.

Perhaps Mr Mandelson can explain when the policy was adopted, and how the party has now abandoned it?

TREVOR FISHER 49 Lovatt Street, Stafford

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