Week in perspective

6th October 2000 at 01:00
IN the good old days you knew where you stood. The Tories talked about "one nation" and packed their offspring off to Eton and Harrow. Labour's class-warriors ranted against the injustice of it all and muttered darkly about how private schools would get their just desserts. Nowadays, nothing is quite so simple.

This week we heard Labour's school standards minister Estelle Morris praising the private sector and exhorting state schools to follow its lead.

Echoing the Prime Minister's criticism of some comprehensives' "one-size-fits-all" approach, Ms Morris this week lauded private schools' ethos of having aspirations for every pupil.

She said there had been a "huge cultural change" in the Labour party over the past decade: "As we've got to know the independent sector more, we've been more honest and open about what we can learn from it.

"We can learn the importance of aspirations for every single child. I've never felt that there is a battle in independent schools to have that as an ethos. It is more challenging for some of the state schools," she told the private school heads' magazine Conference and Common Room.

But Conservative leader William Hague then came to the rescue of the beleaguered state sector with a pledge to send his own children to his local state school. Had the world turned on its head?

"I put my trust in where I came from myself. I would send my children to the local state school," he told the Conservative party conference.

Of course, the Tories have not totally given up on their old friends. Education spokeswoman Theresa May pledged on Wednesday to introduce a revisd version of the assisted places scheme if they won the next election.

Money spent on the ablest pupils from poor backgrounds in the state sector would be transferred to fund private school places. Unlike the old scheme, axed by Labour, schools would make up any shortfall in fees themselves.

Mrs May also promised to end Labour's grammar school ballots, to shield teachers accused of abusing pupils from media coverage until police decided to press charges and give heads wide-ranging autonomy in running their schools.

She attacked Chancellor Gordon Brown for his intervention in the debate on university admissions: "How arrogant of Gordon Brown to think he knows better than Oxford University who should be admitted to read

medicine."

Private schools agreed with her. Vivian Anthony, secretary of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, claimed the Government's drive to get more working-class students into universities would discriminate against private pupils.

He said some Oxbridge colleges were limiting the number of independent school pupils they admitted and warned of a "brain drain" to top American universities if the bias continued.

While the upper-classes pondered whether to send their child to Harvard or Yale, familes in inner-city London had more immediate problems on their minds.

Parents at Rushmore primary school in London's East End called this week for a police guard on their school to protect their children from feuding drug dealers. Northumberland Park secondary school in north London announced that it had already arranged a permanent police presence.


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