Listen to this article
Tony Blair yesterday delivered a speech ahead of the publication today of his latest education white paper. Below are edited extracts.
There is nothing more important to a child’s future than education. I was lucky. I had loving parents and a privileged education.
That stood me in good stead and I have adapted what I learned there to my education policy in government. I started with enthusiasm, then lapsed into just enough activity to keep me out of trouble and relied heavily on a bespectacled swot in the policy unit whom I paid to do my work for me. Now in my final term and with my legacy to secure I’m cramming madly to ensure a favourable final assessment.
You know how it is. I really wanted to do well but at this stage of your life, you are so easily distracted. First it was girls; then I discovered European summits, cigarettes, all-day pub opening hours, peace processes and finally bombing runs. It was easy to get distracted; it’s just part of growing up. Maybe I fell in with the wrong crowd or was too keen to stay in the with Brown gang and the Prescott mob.
But I was young, brash and I paid no notice to my critics. I was always rushing my work, desperate to get out of the house and play with Bill Clinton or George Bush. I was always careful with the presentation but the content was lacking.
Really, the clues were all there for you. I said my priorities were “education, education and education”. Surely you realised that meant it might take three goes to get it right.
I don’t think my time in education has been completely wasted. We have poured money into new buildings and computers. That our reforms have led to improvements is irrefutable; and I mean irrefutable in the proper sense, not in the way that Alan Johnson meant when he used it to describe the case for public sector retirement age of 65.
But there were always going to be two stages to reform. Stage one when we splashed money around, scrapped grant-maintained schools, promised to give parents more choice and control over their children’s schooling and came up with lots of half-baked initiatives like Education Action Zones; and stage two when we splashed money around, reinstated grant-maintained schools, promised to give parents more choice and replaced the half-baked Education Action Zones with the Excellence in Cities programme.
I am not going to deny that we have made mistakes; not gone far enough but in our new white paper to be published today we will drive forward our agenda for improvement. I have really put the work in this time and I think you will be pleasantly surprised when the results come in. I was up till three in the morning reading Brodie’s notes on LEAs and, as long as I’m not pressed for too many details in the practical, I am confident of facing the oral and written tests.
We will give parents the power to take over failing schools - well maybe not the power, more the right to ask to take them over and receive polite refusal from the local authority.
We will also seek to end the middle-class colonisation of the best state schools with a new policy of banding. Under this new, entirely voluntary policy applicants will be banded by ability and the best schools with the most committed parents and motivated children will gain the right to open their doors to the least interested parents and troublesome pupils.
Following the success of our specialist school programme in driving up standards in can pledge that within two years every secondary school will be a specialist school, regardless of how special it has become in that period.
I would like to apologise to the Blair generation of kids who were just starting primary school when I was elected and who have now just arrived at secondary school. I just want to assure them that by the time they leave, our secondary schools will be much better. I know this may seem little consolation but on the bright side if they do really badly, at least they won’t have to find the money for their university tuition fees.