The week

30th April 2010 at 01:00

Imagine, if you will, that you're the leader of a major political party pondering an imminent election campaign. What are going to be the key battlegrounds? The economy? Obviously. Foreign policy and terrorism? Well, duh. What next? Ah, yes, the NHS. No, no ... best steer clear of that. So then, education? Yes, that's a biggie. Lots of rhetorical clear blue water between the parties, and loads of crappy stats to use as political hand-grenades. Next move? Shift one of your Big Beasts into the schools gig. Such was the thinking as Ed Balls, Michael Gove and David Laws circled around one another earlier this year.

Strange, then, that it took until Monday, a full fortnight after the official kick-off, for the edu-fireworks to start exploding. Unsurprisingly, the issue was the Tory's most "out-there" policy of "free schools". More surprising was that the attack came not from the Labour camp but from the uber-Tory shire of Kent. Conservative plans, said senior councillor Paul Carter, to allow parents' groups, teachers, charities and the local satanist sect to run their own state-funded schools would lead to the exacerbation of educational inequalities. What the ensuing headlines said about the lack of Tory unity or, conversely, the failure of Labour to unleash its attack dogs depends on your political persuasion. But perhaps most amusing is that the complaint came from that hotbed of educational egalitarianism, grammar school-loving Kent.

But on Tuesday, education policy reared its ugly head as Jonathan Bartley and his wheelchair-bound son accosted David Cameron - who himself has experience of severely disabled children - on a London street about his party's policies on special schools. Mr Bartley, a former Tory activist (according to reports), was furious over the two years he'd spent trying to get his son into the local school and equally angry that the Conservatives seem, at face value, to be anti-inclusion. A great story for the press and, when it comes down to it, welcome exposure for an important debate that all too often gets lost.

And while the election rumbles on, primary heads throughout England are pondering: "To boycott, or not to boycott." Only time will tell whether the action will gain enough traction to really make an impact in the electoral aftermath. It is interesting that whichever politician is occupying the Big Chair at the Department next Friday, the Sats conundrum will be the first pressing matter in their in-tray. Interesting times, eh?

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