Education in the UK

Preliminary pages
Introduction, Contents, Preface
Chapter 1 Up to 1500
Chapter 2 1500-1600
Renaissance and Reformation
Chapter 3 1600-1660
Chapter 4 1660-1750
Chapter 5 1750-1860
Towards mass education
Chapter 6 1860-1900
A state system of education
Chapter 7 1900-1923
Secondary education for some
Chapter 8 1923-1939
From Hadow to Spens
Chapter 9 1939-1945
Educational reconstruction
Chapter 10 1945-1951
Labour and the tripartite system
Chapter 11 1951-1964
The wind of change
Chapter 12 1964-1970
The golden age?
Chapter 13 1970-1974
Applying the brakes
Chapter 14 1974-1979
Progressivism under attack
Chapter 15 1979-1990
Thatcher and the New Right
Chapter 16 1990-1997
John Major: more of the same
Chapter 17 1997-2007
Tony Blair and New Labour
Chapter 18 2007-2010
Brown and Balls: mixed messages
Chapter 19 2010-2015
Gove v The Blob
Chapter 20 2015-2018

Organisation of this chapter

Blair's three terms
Education, education, education
Education secretaries
   David Blunkett
   Estelle Morris
   Charles Clarke
   Ruth Kelly
   Alan Johnson
Education advisers
   Andrew Adonis
   Michael Barber
   David Miliband
The Conservatives in opposition
   Party leaders
   Shadow education secretaries

First term: 1997-2001
The schools
   1997 Education (Schools) Act
   1997 White Paper Excellence in Schools
   1997 Green Paper Special needs
   1998 School Standards and Framework Act
   Early years
   Fresh Start
   Faith schools
   Grammar schools
   Education Action Zones
   Excellence in Cities
   Privatising local authorities
   The first privatised school
   Specialist colleges
   City academies
Curriculum and testing
   1998 Crick Report: Citizenship
   National Curriculum
   Literacy and Numeracy Strategies
   Early Years Foundation Stage
   Sex education
Further education
   1997 Kennedy Report: Widening participation
Higher education
   1997 Dearing Review: Higher education
   1998 Education (Student Loans) Act
Teacher training
   Circular 10/97
   Circular 4/98
   1998 Teaching and Higher Education Act
   1998 Green Paper Teachers: Meeting the Challenge of Change
Lifelong learning
   1998 Green Paper The Learning Age
   1999 White Paper Learning to succeed
   2000 Learning and Skills Act
2000 Standards in Scotland's Schools etc. Act
Ofsted: Woodhead resigns
2001 Green Paper Schools - building on success

Second term: 2001-05
2001 general election
   Labour manifesto
   Conservative manifesto
   A second landslide
The schools
   2001 White Paper Schools - achieving success
   2002 Education Act
   Faith schools
   A post-comprehensive era?
   The academies programme
Curriculum and testing
   Foreign languages
   National Literacy Strategy
   2003 Ofsted report: The education of 6-year-olds
   Tests, targets and league tables
14-19 curriculum
   2002 Green Paper Extending opportunities, raising standards
   2002 Roberts Review: SET for success
   2003 Green Paper Opportunity and excellence
   2004 Smith Report: Making Mathematics Count
   2004 Tomlinson Report 14-19 Reform
   2005 White Paper 14-19 Education and Skills
Child welfare: a holistic approach
   2003 Green Paper Every Child Matters
   2004 Children Act
   Every Child Matters: change for children
Teachers' pay and conditions
   Payment by results
   Workforce remodelling
Higher education
   2003 White Paper The future of higher education
   2003 Green Paper Widening participation in higher education
   2004 Higher Education Act
Other developments 2001-2005
   Lifelong learning
   Building Schools for the Future
   Repeal of Section 28
   2005 Education Act
2004 Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners
Scotland's National Debate
   National Priorities in Education
   Educating for Excellence
   Assessment, Testing and Reporting 3-14
   A curriculum for excellence
   Ambitious, excellent schools
2005 CESC Report: Secondary Education

Third term: 2005-07
2005 general election
   Labour manifesto
   Conservative manifesto
   A historic third term
The schools
   2005 White Paper Higher Standards, Better Schools for All
   Education and Inspections Bill
   2006 Education and Inspections Act
   School Admissions Code
   Faith schools
Curriculum and testing
   Synthetic phonics
   Teaching and Learning in 2020
   National Curriculum
   Tests and exams
   Cambridge Primary Review
   2007 Ajegbo Report: Diversity and Citizenship
   2005 Steer Report: Learning behaviour
   2006 CPAC report on school attendance
   2007 CESC report on bullying
Other developments 2005-2007
   Building Schools for the Future
   Middle schools
   Higher education
   Head teachers
   Children in care
   2007 Green Paper Raising Expectations
   Tim Brighouse

The Blair legacy


Education in the UK: a history
Derek Gillard

first published June 1998
this version published May 2018

copyright Derek Gillard 2018
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Chapter 17 : 1997-2007

Tony Blair and New Labour


Blair's three terms

As noted in the previous chapter, Tony Blair (1953- ) (pictured) had been elected Labour leader on 21 July 1994 and had quickly set about taking the party further towards the political centre, rebranding it 'New Labour'.

In the general election on 1 May 1997, Labour won a landslide victory with a Commons majority of 197, and Blair became the youngest Prime Minister since Robert Banks Jenkinson in 1812. He led Labour into two further election victories - on 7 June 2001 (majority 167) and 5 May 2005 (majority 66) - and his premiership lasted just over ten years.

The standard of living rose significantly during this period: the value of real incomes rose by 18 per cent, child poverty was more than halved, the number of pensioners living in poverty fell by 75 per cent, and a National Minimum Wage was introduced. Annual spending on education rose by an average of 5.4 per cent; on the National Health Service by 8.2 per cent.

However, Blair and his Chancellor, Gordon Brown (1951- ), were criticised for the extensive use of private finance initiative (PFI) schemes for funding public projects, including the building and refurbishment of hospitals and schools. A National Audit Office report published in January 2018 suggested that these schemes would cost taxpayers almost 200bn over 25 years (The Guardian 18 January 2018).

The Blair governments negotiated the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, established the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, undertook some reform of the House of Lords, and created a new Greater London Authority.

The Human Rights Act and the Freedom of Information Act were passed, and measures were taken to provide greater equality for gays and lesbians, including the introduction of civil partnerships and the repeal of the homophobic Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act (details in chapter 15).

In foreign policy, the decision to commit British armed forces to support US President George W Bush's war in Afghanistan (2001) was controversial; and British involvement in the invasion of Iraq (2003), based on 'dodgy dossiers' and government claims which were later shown to be untrue, led to calls for Blair to be indicted for war crimes.

Following bomb attacks in London in July 2005, the government sought new powers to deal with the terrorist threat, including the right to hold suspects for up to 90 days without trial, though this was defeated in the Commons.

(For more on the political background of this period, see the Wikipedia pages on Tony Blair and The premiership of Tony Blair, from which much of the above information is taken.)

Blair resigned as Labour leader and Prime Minister in June 2007 and was succeeded by Gordon Brown.

Education, education, education

In his Foreword to the 1997 Labour manifesto, New Labour because Britain deserves better, Tony Blair had declared that

Education will be our number one priority, and we will increase the share of national income spent on education as we decrease it on the bills of economic and social failure.
During the campaign, he said his government's priorities would be 'education, education, education'.

It was unsurprising, therefore, that many teachers hoped - some even dared to believe - that the first Labour government for eighteen years would usher in a new 'golden age' in education. Tests and league tables would disappear, Chief Inspector Chris Woodhead (who had become something of a hate figure) would be sacked, Ofsted scrapped, and grant-maintained schools would be brought under local authority control. No such promises, however, had been made during the campaign.

Perhaps most importantly, selection for secondary education would finally be abolished; and on this issue there were grounds for hope. David Blunkett had promised the Labour Party conference on 4 October 1995: 'Read my lips. No selection, either by examination or interview, under a Labour government' (quoted in Chitty 2013:73). The move would have had widespread public support. An ICM poll in 1996 had shown that 65 per cent of the population supported comprehensive education, while only 27 per cent favoured a selective system (The Guardian 7 February 1996, quoted in Chitty and Dunford 1999:31).

However, despite Blunkett's pre-election promise, the warning signs had been clear. The 1995 Labour policy document Diversity and excellence: a new partnership for schools, for example, had set out the party's new thinking on grammar schools:

Our opposition to academic selection at 11 has always been clear. But while we have never supported grammar schools in their exclusion of children by examination, change can come only through local agreement. Such change in the character of a school could only follow a clear demonstration of support from the parents affected by such decisions (Labour Party 1995).
And in the months following the 1995 Conference, Blunkett had begun using the phrase 'no further selection', which effectively guaranteed the survival of the remaining grammar schools:
it became increasingly clear that 'no selection' actually meant 'no further selection', and that when David Blunkett began using this new phrase in speeches and media interviews, he was not guilty of a simple slip of the tongue: he was, in fact, announcing a change of official education policy (Chitty 2009a:60-61).
In other areas, too, it would quickly become clear that New Labour's education policies would be little different from those of Thatcher and Major:
This meant an endorsement of much of the 1988 Education Reform Act and its successors, in relation both to 'parental choice' and to competition between schools in a diverse and unequal secondary school system (Jones 2003:145).
Few were surprised, therefore, when Blunkett announced that Chris Woodhead would be keeping his job as Chief Inspector and head of Ofsted. Indeed, Blunkett appeared to share Woodhead's enthusiasm for castigating teachers: within three weeks of his appointment as Secretary of State for Education, he had 'named and shamed' 18 'failing' schools.

Writing in The Observer (25 May 1997), former Labour deputy leader Roy Hattersley (1932- ) commented:

a Labour victory should have heralded a new age of cooperation and consensus. But the psychology has not changed. Schools are to be frightened into improvement by the threat of exposure. The blame is again heaped on teachers, not the conditions of deprivation in which their pupils live or the inadequate and under-funded buildings in which they are required to teach. Bullying teachers is the cheap as well as the easy option for a Secretary of State who genuinely wants improvement but has not been provided with the resources essential to bringing it about (Hattersley 1997).

Education secretaries

The education secretaries for this period were:

2 May 1997David Blunkett (1947- )
8 June 2001Estelle Morris (1952- )
24 October 2002Charles Clarke (1950- )
15 December 2004Ruth Kelly (1968- )
5 May 2006Alan Johnson (1950- )

On 8 June 2001 the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) was renamed the Department for Education and Skills (DfES).

David Blunkett

The appointment of David Blunkett (pictured) as shadow education secretary in October 1994 had marked 'a significant turning point for Labour education' (Lawton 2005:120): he had little sympathy with 'progressive' educational theories and was 'quite prepared to rethink Labour's education policy' (Chitty 2013:70).

(For details of Blunkett's background and his views on education, see Labour in opposition in the previous chapter.)

Estelle Morris

Estelle Morris (pictured) was born into a political family. Her father, Charles, was a Post Office union official who became Labour MP for Manchester Openshaw in 1963; her uncle, Alf Morris, was also a Labour MP.

After attending Whalley Range High School, she gained a BEd at Coventry College of Education and then taught PE and Humanities at Sidney Stringer School, an inner-city comprehensive in Coventry, later becoming its Head of Sixth Form Studies.

In 1979 she was elected to Warwick District Council, and entered Parliament in 1992 as MP for Birmingham Yardley. She was schools minister in Tony Blair's first administration, becoming Secretary of State in June 2001 - the first former comprehensive school teacher to hold the position.

She resigned sixteen months later amid rumours about her difficult relationship with Blair's adviser Andrew Adonis, but rejoined the government in June 2003 as Minister for the Arts. She stepped down as an MP at the general election in May 2005 and the following month was made a life peer as Baroness Morris of Yardley.

Since then, she has served in a number of roles: as Pro Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sunderland; as President of the National Children's Bureau; and as chair of the Children's Workforce Development Council, the Council of Goldsmiths College, and the Institute for Effective Education at the University of York.

Charles Clarke

The son of a senior civil servant, Charles Clarke (pictured) was educated at Highgate School in London and read Mathematics and Economics at King's College Cambridge. After serving as President of the Cambridge Students' Union, he was elected President of the National Union of Students in 1975.

In the 1980s he was a local councillor in Hackney and worked for Labour leader Neil Kinnock. He entered Parliament in 1997 as MP for Norwich South and, after just one year on the back benches, joined the government as a junior minister, first in the education department and then at the Home Office.

As education secretary, he encouraged the establishment of specialist secondary schools but questioned the continued existence of grammar schools. He held controversial views on the role of higher education, arguing that universities existed to 'enable the British economy and society to deal with the challenges posed by the increasingly rapid process of global change' (quoted in The Times Higher Education Review 16 May 2003).

Clarke went on to become Home Secretary in December 2004, but hostility to his proposals for countering terrorism and a row about the release of foreign prisoners led to his removal in a cabinet reshuffle two years later. He returned to the back benches, from where he launched attacks on Gordon Brown's leadership. He lost his seat in the 2010 election and has since held a number of posts, including visiting professorships at the Universities of East Anglia and Lancaster.

Ruth Kelly

Born in Northern Ireland, Ruth Kelly (pictured) was educated at Sutton High School and Westminster School. She read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Queen's College Oxford and gained an MSc in Economics at the London School of Economics. After some teaching at a Spanish university, she worked for The Guardian and the Bank of England.

She entered Parliament as MP for Bolton West in 1997 and served on the Treasury Select Committee, becoming Economic Secretary to the Treasury after the 2001 election, and then Minister for the Cabinet Office in September 2004. A devout Roman Catholic (allegedly a member of the secretive Opus Dei sect), and on the right wing of the Labour Party, she voted in favour of the Iraq war, the replacement of Trident, university top-up fees, identity cards and restrictions on abortion, and opposed all moves to give gays and lesbians greater equality.

As education secretary, Kelly was criticised for refusing to reform A Levels and diplomas in line with the Tomlinson report's recommendations, and for the proposal to create 'trust schools', which were supported by the Conservatives but opposed by many in the Labour Party.

Following the 2005 election, it was believed that she would be demoted. In the event, she kept her post but was said to have been 'less than thrilled' by the threatened appointment of Tony Blair's adviser Andrew Adonis as a Minister within her Department (The Observer 8 May 2005).

In May 2006 she was moved to the Department of Communities and Local Government, and later to Transport. She resigned from politics in 2010 and has since held posts at HSBC and at St Mary's University, Twickenham.

Alan Johnson

Alan Johnson (pictured) was born in London. His mother died when he was twelve, after which he was brought up in a council flat by Linda, his older sister. He attended Sloane Grammar School in Chelsea until he was 15, and then worked in a supermarket for three years.

In 1968 he became a postman and a member of the Union of Communication Workers, rising to become its general secretary in 1992.

He joined the Labour Party in 1971 as a Marxist, but had moved to the right of the party by the time he entered Parliament as MP for Hull West and Hessle in 1997.

Johnson obtained his first ministerial post at Trade and Industry in 1999, becoming higher education minister in 2003, despite having himself left school at 15. After brief spells as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (2004) and Trade and Industry (2005), he was appointed Secretary of State for Education and Skills in May 2006.

During his year in the post, his aim seems to have been to create a period of calm after his predecessor's difficulties. He was therefore largely uncontroversial, encouraging parents to spend more time with their children and seeking to improve teachers' pay and conditions.

When Gordon Brown became Prime Minister in May 2007, Alan Johnson was appointed Secretary of State for Health. He has since held a variety of other posts, including those of Home Secretary and Shadow Chancellor. After chairing the 'Labour In For Britain' campaign in the 2016 European Union membership referendum, he resigned as an MP in 2017.

Education advisers

Tony Blair's governments were notable for their reliance on the use of 'special advisers': by 2005 there were 81 of them, costing the taxpayer 4.4m a year (Chitty 2009a:134). Among those concerned with education, the most influential were Andrew Adonis, Michael Barber and David Miliband.

Andrew Adonis

Andrew Adonis (1963- ) (pictured) was born to a Cypriot father and an English mother. She left the family when Andrew was three, and he and his sister were placed in a local authority children's home. At the age of 11 he was awarded a grant to attend Kingham Hill boarding school in the Cotswolds.

At Oxford, he read Modern History at Keble and obtained a DPhil at Christ Church. From 1987 to 1991 he was an Oxford City councillor for the Social Democrats (later the Liberal Democrats) and, between 1988 and 1991, a research fellow at Nuffield College Oxford.

He then moved into journalism, writing on public policy for the Financial Times (1991-96), and becoming a political columnist and contributing editor at The Observer (1996-98).

In 1994 he was chosen as a parliamentary candidate by the Liberal Democrats, but resigned to join Labour in December 1995, after Tony Blair had persuaded the party to abandon its commitment to public ownership of key industries (The Guardian 27 January 2005).

Three years later, in 1998, he was selected as Labour candidate for Islington North, but withdrew when Blair offered him the post of adviser in the Number 10 Policy Unit. By 2001 he was head of policy, but two years later chose to take the lesser position of senior policy adviser as he wanted time to write the official biography of former Liberal Democrat MP Roy Jenkins, who had just died. In May 2005, he was created a life peer so that he could be appointed a minister of state for education.

Adonis exerted a powerful influence on New Labour education policies, producing a constant stream of ideas (including the academies programme) and persuading Tony Blair to allow universities to charge variable top-up fees - a policy he says he now regrets in the light of what has happened since (The Guardian 7 July 2017).

Several education secretaries were said to have suffered as a result of what insiders dubbed 'The Adonis Problem'. The most notable casualty was Estelle Morris who, it was widely believed, resigned because she felt undermined by Adonis (The Observer 27 October 2002). There were suspicions that Charles Clarke was told to keep quiet when he raised questions about the effectiveness of grammar schools. And Ruth Kelly found herself overruled when it came to some of the proposals in the 2005 White Paper (Daily Mail 17 October 2005; The Observer 23 October 2005).

After Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair as Prime Minister, Adonis kept his position as minister of state for education until October 2008, when he was moved to the Department for Transport. He has since held numerous posts in a wide range of organisations.

Michael Barber

Michael Barber (1955- ) (pictured) attended Bootham School in York, read history at Oxford, and trained as a teacher. He taught in schools in Britain and Zimbabwe, and served as a Labour councillor in the London Borough of Hackney, becoming chair of its education committee.

In January 1995, by which time he was Professor of Education at the London Institute of Education, Barber was invited to attend a seminar on education in Tony Blair's office. At this meeting he suggested that the party's education policy should be based on the theme that 'standards matter more than structures' (quoted in Chitty 2013:71).

In May 1996, he was invited to chair Labour's Literacy Task Force and, following the party's election victory in 1997, became head of the new 275-strong Standards and Effectiveness Unit within the Department for Education and Employment. He held the post until 2001, when Tony Blair appointed him head of the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit at Number Ten, responsible for overseeing major improvements in education, crime reduction, health, and transport.

Denis Lawton has argued that

In so far as New Labour has an 'education theorist', Barber was the education ideas man (Lawton 2005:129).
David Miliband

David Miliband (1965- ) gained four A Levels at Haverstock Comprehensive School in north London and read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Corpus Christi College Oxford. He took his master's degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was a Kennedy Scholar.

From 1989 until 1994 he worked as a researcher and policy analyst at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). In 1992 Labour leader John Smith appointed him Secretary of the IPPR's Commission on Social Justice.

Miliband became a policy adviser to Tony Blair in 1994, and Head of the Downing Street Policy Unit in 1997. He has been credited with drafting the 1997 and 2001 New Labour election manifestos and contributing to the 1997 White Paper Excellence in Schools (Chitty 2009a:137).

He was elected MP for South Shields in 2001 and, at the age of 36, was appointed a schools minister in October 2002.

In December 2004, following the resignation of David Blunkett, Miliband replaced Ruth Kelly as a Cabinet Office Minister, and went on to serve in a variety of other posts. He resigned from the shadow cabinet in 2010 and from Parliament in 2013.

The Conservatives in opposition

Party leaders

The Conservative Party changed its leader four times during the ten years from 1997 to 2007:

19 June 1997William Hague (1961- )
13 September 2001Iain Duncan Smith (1954- )
6 November 2003Michael Howard (1941- )
6 December 2005David Cameron (1966- )

Shadow education secretaries

There were eight shadow education secretaries (David Willetts served twice), the longest-serving of whom was Theresa May (27 months):

2 May 1997Gillian Shephard (1940- )
11 June 1997Stephen Dorrell (1952- )
1 June 1998David Willetts (1956- )
15 June 1999Theresa May (1956- )
18 September 2001Damian Green (1956- )
11 November 2003Tim Yeo (1945- )
15 March 2004Tim Collins (1964- )
6 May 2005David Cameron
8 December 2005David Willetts

First term: 1997-2001

The schools

1997 Education (Schools) Act

The Assisted Places Scheme had been introduced in the early days of the first Thatcher government. Section 17 of the 1980 Education Act (3 April) had provided public money to pay for 30,000 secondary pupils to attend private schools. John Major's government attempted to extend the scheme to primary pupils in Part I of the 1997 Education Act (21 March) but, with the general election imminent, the measure was never implemented.

The Labour Party was committed to abolishing the scheme. Its 1997 manifesto, New Labour because Britain deserves better, had promised:

We will reduce class sizes for five, six and seven year-olds to 30 or under, by phasing out the assisted places scheme, the cost of which is set to rise to 180 million per year.
The new administration fulfilled this promise within two months of coming to power. The 1997 Education (Schools) Act (31 July) set out arrangements for the abolition of assisted places: children who were already on the scheme, or had been offered a place beginning in September 1997, would continue to be funded, but no new places would be offered.

Having honoured its manifesto pledge, however, the government then sought to placate the private sector by announcing a 500,000 pilot scheme in which state school pupils would be offered a term at an independent school, where they would be coached for admission to Oxbridge. School standards minister Stephen Byers (1953- ) said

The government has made it clear that we wish to build bridges wherever we can across education divides. The education apartheid created by the public/private divide diminishes the whole system. The independent sector plays a vital role. That is why we are fully committed to fostering closer links between the state and private sector (quoted in The Guardian 27 November 1997).
1997 White Paper Excellence in Schools

The new government's policies in relation to schools were set out in the White Paper Excellence in schools and enacted in the 1998 School Standards and Framework Act.

In his Foreword to Excellence in schools, published in July 1997, David Blunkett wrote that

This, the first White Paper of the new Government, is as much about equipping the people of this country for the challenge of the future as it is about the Government's core commitment to equality of opportunity and high standards for all (DfEE 1997a:3).
The White Paper began by listing six principles which would underpin the government's education policy:
1 Education will be at the heart of government.
2 Policies will be designed to benefit the many, not just the few.
3 The focus will be on standards, not structures.
4 Intervention will be in inverse proportion to success.
5 There will be zero tolerance of underperformance.
6 Government will work in partnership with all those committed to raising standards (DfEE 1997a:5).
The White Paper set out dozens of targets to be achieved by 2002. There would be 'high quality education for all 4-year-olds whose parents want it' (DfEE 1997a:5); class sizes for 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds would be reduced to 30 or under; and in primary schools, at least an hour a day would be spent on English and an hour on maths, with national guidelines and training for all primary teachers on best practice in the teaching of literacy and numeracy.

Each school would have its own 'challenging targets to raise standards' (DfEE 1997a:6), and school performance tables would show the rate of progress pupils had made as well as their absolute levels of achievement. Local education authorities (LEAs) would be required to have Education Development Plans and to provide better support for school management and leadership. 'Failing' schools would be improved, closed, or given a 'Fresh Start'.

Secondary schools would be expected to set pupils according to ability, particularly in science, maths and languages. Mixed ability teaching was to be used 'only where it is appropriate and can be seen to be effective' (DfEE 1997a:37). Schools would be linked to a National Grid for Learning, which would provide 'modern teaching and resource material' (DfEE 1997a:7).

Education Action Zones would be set up to provide targeted support in deprived areas.

New headteachers would be required to hold a professional headship qualification and a national training scheme for existing heads was to be created.

There would be more parents on governing bodies; home-school contracts; family learning schemes where parents and their children could learn together (family Literacy courses started in more than 60 LEAs in September 1997); better support for children with special educational needs or behaviour problems; and national guidelines for homework and after-school homework centres.

A key message of the White Paper was that the government's focus would be on 'standards, not structures' (DfEE 1997a:66), a phrase which was to become something of a mantra for government ministers.

We need a new framework which strikes a better balance between fairness, co-operation, diversity between schools, and the power of schools to decide their own affairs. It must allow all good schools to flourish, leaving in place whatever is already working well, while providing better support for those schools that need to improve (DfEE 1997a:66).
It was an obscure way of saying that the government did not intend to waste time or effort abolishing grammar schools or other types of specialist school: indeed, it planned the creation of 'an extensive network of specialist schools benefiting neighbouring schools and the local community' (DfEE 1997a:7).

Of comprehensive schools, the White Paper said:

The demands for equality and increased opportunity in the 1950s and 1960s led to the introduction of comprehensive schools. All-in secondary schooling rightly became the normal pattern, but the search for equality of opportunity in some cases became a tendency to uniformity. The idea that all children had the same rights to develop their abilities led too easily to the doctrine that all had the same ability. The pursuit of excellence was too often equated with elitism (DfEE 1997a:11).
The Conservative policy of 'selection by specialisation' would be continued:
We will ensure that schools with a specialism will continue to be able to give priority to those children who demonstrate the relevant aptitude, as long as that is not misused to select on the basis of general academic ability (DfEE 1997a:71).
With regard to grammar schools, the White Paper argued that 'local parents have an interest in decisions on whether their selective admissions arrangements should continue. Changes in the admissions policies of grammar schools will be decided by local parents, and not by LEAs' (DfEE 1997a:72).

The White Paper enjoyed a 'relatively warm welcome' from media commentators, union leaders and parents' organisations. The Guardian (8 July 1997) noted that the teaching unions and local education authorities had 'rallied to support a white paper promising hugely ambitious improvement targets and draconian penalties for under-performance'. National Union of Teachers General Secretary Doug McAvoy welcomed the commitment to reduce class sizes, and the proposals for equitable funding and fair and open admission policies (Chitty 2013:87).

There were concerns, however. The Campaign for State Education (CASE) disapproved of the emphasis on 'failing schools'; the proposal that specialist secondary schools would be encouraged to select pupils on the basis of 'aptitude'; and the government's unwillingness to phase out the remaining grammar schools (Chitty 2013:87).

1997 Green Paper: Special Educational Needs (SEN)

The Green Paper Excellence for all children: Meeting Special Educational Needs, published in October 1997, set out the government's proposals for improving SEN provision.

In his Foreword, David Blunkett wrote that the Green Paper was 'the first step in a fundamental reappraisal of the way we meet special educational needs' (DfEE 1997c:6).

It explains our approach. It challenges some widespread assumptions. Above all, it seeks the views of all those with an interest in special educational needs on how to make a reality of our vision (DfEE 1997c:6).
A National Advisory Group on SEN, chaired by Estelle Morris, had been set up to work closely with the government's Standards Task Force.

The Green Paper's chapters concerned:

1 Policies for excellence
2 Working with parents
3 Practical support: the framework for SEN provision
4 Increasing inclusion
5 Planning SEN provision
6 Developing skills
7 Working together
8 Principles into practice: emotional and behavioural difficulties (DfEE 1997c:2-3)
Each chapter contained a series of targets to be met by 2002. Thus, for example,
The policies set out in Excellence in schools for raising standards, particularly in the early years, will be beginning to reduce the number of children who need long-term special educational provision (DfEE 1997c:8) ...

an increasing proportion of those children with statements of SEN who would currently be placed in special schools will be educated in mainstream schools (DfEE 1997c:9) ...

A national programme will be in place to help primary schools tackle emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD) at a very early stage (DfEE 1997c:10).

1998 School Standards and Framework Act

The measures proposed in Excellence in schools were implemented in the 1998 School Standards and Framework Act (24 July).


Part I of the Act, Measures to raise standards of school education, contained chapters dealing with

  • the size of infant classes;
  • the responsibilities of local education authorities, including their duty to promote high standards (Section 5), preparation of education development plans (6-7), the power of the Secretary of State to secure 'proper performance of LEA's functions' (8), and the inclusion of representatives of parent governors on education committees (9);
  • the establishment and functions of Education Action Zones; and
  • intervention in 'schools causing concern' by LEAs and by the Secretary of State, who could appoint additional governors (18) or direct closure of a school (19).
Chapter I of Part II set out a New framework for maintained schools:
Schools maintained by local education authorities on or after the appointed day shall be divided into the following categories -
(a) community schools;
(b) foundation schools;
(c) voluntary schools, comprising -
(i) voluntary aided schools, and
(ii) voluntary controlled schools;
(d) community special schools; and
(e) foundation special schools (20 (1)).
Subsequent Sections dealt with the kinds of foundation and voluntary schools and the types of foundations (21), maintenance of schools (22), and the requirement for each local education authority in England to establish a school organisation committee for their area (24-27).

The remaining Chapters (II-VII) concerned

  • the establishment, alteration or discontinuance of schools;
  • the government and financing of maintained schools;
  • the staffing of schools, including staffing at 'schools with a religious character' (58-60);
  • discipline (61-68), including school attendance targets (63) and the exclusion of pupils (64-68);
  • religious education and worship; and
  • miscellaneous matters.
Part III of the Act concerned School admissions.

Chapter I dealt with admission arrangements, including a code of practice (84-5), parental preferences (86), and admission authorities:

In this chapter 'the admission authority' -
(a) in relation to a community or voluntary controlled school, means -
(i) the local education authority, or
(ii) where with the governing body's agreement the authority have delegated to them responsibility for determining the admission arrangements for the school, the governing body; and
(b) in relation to a foundation or voluntary aided school, means the governing body (88(1)).
Other sections dealt with
  • the special arrangements which could be made to preserve the 'religious character' of foundation or voluntary aided schools (91);
  • admission numbers (93);
  • appeals (94-95);
  • the power to direct admission of a child to a school (96-97); and
  • the admission of children with statements of special educational needs to nursery education or special schools (98).
Chapter II of Part III, Selection of pupils, placed a 'general restriction on selection by ability or aptitude' but allowed for 'permitted forms' of selection:
No admission arrangements for a maintained school may make provision for selection by ability unless -
(a) they make provision for a permitted form of such selection; or
(b) the school is a grammar school
Permitted forms of selection were to include
  • pre-existing arrangements (100);
  • pupil banding (101); and
  • aptitude for 'one of more prescribed subjects' (102).

The Act went on to define grammar schools (104), and set out the 'procedure for deciding whether grammar schools should retain selective admission arrangements' (parental ballots) (105-108).

Part IV Other provisions about school education included sections on

  • home-school agreements (110-111);
  • the extension of educational opportunities for Key Stage 4 pupils (112-113); and
  • school meals (114-116).
Nursery education was dealt with in Part V, which included provisions relating to
  • the duties of local education authorities (118);
  • early years development partnerships (119);
  • early years development plans (120-121);
  • the inspection of nursery education (122); and
  • children with special educational needs (123).
Part VI, Partnership arrangements in Wales, made amendments to the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act (125-126)

Part VII, Miscellaneous and general, included provision for the abolition of the Funding Agency for Schools (132).


David Blunkett's announcement that schools judged to be failing by Ofsted would be given two years to improve or they would be closed or have radical management changes imposed on them angered head teachers. National Association of Head Teachers General Secretary David Hart commented:

It would be shortsighted to ignore other factors which impact on school success or failure, such as the admissions policy of neighbouring schools, levels of disadvantage and the competence of the LEA or the governing body (quoted in The Guardian 3 June 1998).
Many teachers and educationists objected to the decision to allow selection by aptitude, arguing that 'in a class-divided and highly competitive society ... specialisms could never be equal: they would rapidly become ranked in a hierarchy of status' (Chitty 2009a:69-70).

Furthermore, the government's assumption that children could be tested for particular aptitudes, rather than for general ability, flew in the face of all the research evidence, as Peter Mortimore, Director of the London Institute of Education, argued in The Guardian (24 March 1998):

Except in music and perhaps art, it does not seem possible to diagnose specific aptitudes for most school curriculum subjects. Instead, what seems to emerge from such testing is a general ability to learn, which is often, but not always, associated with the various advantages of coming from a middle-class home. How can head teachers know if the 'aptitude' of a ten year old in German shows anything more than the parents' ability to pay for language lessons? (Mortimore 1998 quoted in Chitty 2009a:70).
There was criticism, too, of the government's claim that it was 'standards not structures' that mattered. Clyde Chitty argued that it was
somewhat ironic that the Act was, in fact, chiefly concerned with structure, with 89 of the 145 sections being devoted to the new categories of state maintained schools, their establishment, financing, admissions, and selection arrangements (Chitty 2013:88).
Peter Newsam (1928- ), former Chief Education Officer of the Inner London Education Authority and Director of the London Institute of Education, pointed out that the standards and structures dichotomy was a false one, since the type of school attended - grammar, secondary modern, comprehensive - did indeed have a significant effect on pupils' achievement, and he demolished the argument - increasingly being implied if not stated outright by government ministers - that comprehensive schools had been a failure. Writing in Forum (Spring 1998), he said:
Where schools that are comprehensive, in the full sense of admitting the full range of ability, have been developed, the pressure of places on them tends to be severe and the notion of middle class or any other form of flight from them is false. Such schools perform consistently well and, if properly supported, will do better still (Newsam 1998:6).
The government apparently believed that
the quality of what can be achieved in a school system is unrelated to the form which that system takes: that raising standards in schools, particularly in urban secondary schools, can be pursued successfully without paying close attention to the structure, in all its diversity and inter-dependent relationships, within which those schools have to operate (Newsam 1998:10).
But raising standards to the extent necessary, said Newsam, could not be achieved in that way:
Standards and structure, quality and form, are inextricably related in education as elsewhere. It is a bad mistake to believe otherwise (Newsam 1998:10).
Clyde Chitty agreed. In The Guardian (13 October 1998), he wrote:
Guided by the oft-repeated 'standards not structures' mantra, education ministers show a marked reluctance to tackle the anomalies and inequities inherited from the Conservatives.

After nearly eighteen months of a Labour government, we have an education system in England and Wales ... that is as unfair and divided as it was during the eighteen years of Conservative rule. It might have been unrealistic to expect Education and Employment Minister David Blunkett to change everything overnight. What is really dispiriting is that New Labour policies are exacerbating rather than removing existing divisions (Chitty 1998).

He concluded that
New Labour is clearly basing its education policy on the principles of competition, choice and diversity - the popular themes of all Conservative White Papers. Under the guise of 'modernising' the comprehensive principle, the government is effectively destroying it (Chitty 1998).
Early years

New Labour's policies on early years education and childcare, particularly during the first Blair administration, were 'remarkably coherent' and had the added benefit of being 'in some measure based on recent research' (Chitty 2009a:218). The government's aims were clear: to reduce the number of young children living in poverty, to improve support for families with young children, and to coordinate local services.

The National Childcare Strategy, introduced in May 1998, aimed to create, within five years, a million new childcare places, 20,000 after-school childcare projects, and 60,000 new childcare jobs, along with strategies to enable 250,000 families to move off benefits (Chitty 2009a:218).

A year later, in 1999, the government launched the Sure Start programme, a 500m initiative aimed at improving the health, well-being and educational attainment of 0- to 3-year-olds in disadvantaged areas through a wide range of health, education and social services. Sure Start was 'probably the most important anti-poverty intervention of the first Blair administration' (Chitty 2009a:218).

Sixty 'trailblazer' programmes were launched in April 1999; by 2003, around five hundred Sure Start programmes were in operation in England, involving midwives, health visitors and play workers offering services and support for more than 300,000 children. Similar schemes were developed in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (Chitty 2009a:218-219).

Fresh Start

September 1999 saw the inception of the Fresh Start scheme, which aimed to revitalise 'failing' inner-city comprehensive schools by renaming them and appointing so-called 'superheads'. Within a year, however, several of these 'superheads' had resigned and the scheme fizzled out.

Among the failures was the George Orwell school in Islington, refurbished at a cost of 8m and reopened as Islington Arts and Media School in September 1999, with Torsten Friedag as its 'superhead' on a salary of 70,000. Blunkett attended the reopening amid a fanfare of publicity. Six months later, poor attendance and violent behaviour were still prevalent: Friedag resigned and Ofsted ordered that the school be taken into 'emergency rescue measures' (The Guardian 11 March 2000).

East Brighton Arts and Media College was also taken into 'special measures' when its 'superhead', Tony Garwood, resigned after Ofsted described his leadership as 'weak' (The Guardian 29 June 2000).

Faith schools

When New Labour came to power in 1997, 7,000 of England's 25,000 state schools - 589 secondary and 6,384 primary - were already 'faith schools', most of them voluntary aided or voluntary controlled schools run by the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church.

It quickly became clear that Tony Blair wished to see an increase in the number of faith-based schools and a greater diversity in their provision. In 1998, his government began to offer state funding to schools run by other faith groups: Islamia Primary School in Brent and Al Furqan Primary School in Sparkhill, Birmingham, became the first state-funded Muslim schools in England (The Guardian 10 January 1998); John Loughborough Secondary School in Haringey became a state-funded school run by the Seventh Day Adventists (The Guardian 10 March 1998).

In the following three years, two more Jewish schools were given state funding, a Sikh school became the first of its kind to become state-maintained, and Feversham College in Bradford became Britain's first state-funded Islamic secondary school for girls (The Guardian 18 September 2001).

In the run-up to the 2001 general election, Tony Blair told a conference of faith groups organised by the Christian Socialist Movement that church schools were a pillar of the education system, 'valued by very many parents for their faith character, their moral emphasis and the high quality of education they generally provide' (The Guardian 30 March 2001).

As we shall see, Blair's second term as Prime Minister would be marked by a concerted effort to increase the level of faith-based school provision.

Grammar schools

In March 2000, the first parental ballot on selection - at Ripon in Yorkshire - resulted in the town keeping its grammar school. Of the 3,000 parents who were entitled to vote, 1,493 supported the selective system; 748 voted to abolish it. It was pointed out that a quarter of those voting lived outside the area served by the school, and another quarter had children in independent preparatory schools. Nevertheless, the result was disastrous for supporters of comprehensive education and rendered it 'highly unlikely that groups of parents in other parts of the country would risk wasting time and money on a similar enterprise' (Chitty 2009a:71).

Two days after the Ripon result was announced, David Blunkett told The Sunday Telegraph that it was time to abandon 'Labour's historic campaign against grammar schools':

I'm not interested in hunting the remaining grammar schools ... I'm desperately trying to avoid the whole debate in education once again, as it was in the 1960s and 1970s, concentrating on the issue of selection, when it should be concentrating on the raising of standards ... There are only 164 grammar schools - let's get on with the job of giving a decent education to all the kids ... If all future attempts to close grammar schools fail, I shall feel totally vindicated (The Sunday Telegraph 12 March 2000 quoted in Chitty 2013:90-91).

Later in the year, campaigners in Kent complained that revised guidance issued by David Blunkett made it almost impossible for them to gather sufficient signatures on a petition to trigger a vote on the future of the county's 33 grammar schools. But campaigners were still hoping to trigger ballots in Birmingham, Sutton Coldfield and Buckinghamshire (The Guardian 26 September 2000).

Meanwhile, in an interview with Patrick Wintour (The Guardian 9 September 2000) Tony Blair criticised comprehensive schools for adopting 'a one-size-fits-all mentality', with 'no setting, uniform provision for all', and 'hostility to the notion of specialisation'. Comprehensive schools, he concluded, should 'cease meaning the same for all'.

The government's attitude to comprehensive education in England was all the more extraordinary given what was happening in other parts of the UK.

Research commissioned by the Northern Ireland Office and published in 2000, identified

a number of the undesirable effects of selection, including the existence of a long tail of underachieving schools and a 'polarity of achievement', as well as the under-representation of children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds in grammar schools (Jones 2003:152).
Scotland and Wales had almost fully comprehensive school systems and less social segregation than England. Yet the social mixing of students 'did not appear to correlate with lower levels of attainment':
in terms of average levels of attainment at GCSE, where an exam system common to England, Northern Ireland and Wales provided some means of comparison, there was no difference between the three nations (Jones 2003:154).
The Welsh Assembly's first major statement on education, The Learning Country, published in August 2001, envisaged 'a fully comprehensive system of learning' (NAW 2001:8) so that 'inequalities in achievement between advantaged and disadvantaged areas, groups, and individuals' could be 'narrowed in the interests of all' (NAW 2001:10).

Ken Jones argued that:

New Labour has constructed a version of post-war history whose first purpose is to draw a line between itself and the Labour governments which preceded it. In education at least, the evidence that is offered in support of this interpretation is drawn almost exclusively from an English experience and there appears to be little interest in learning from the policy histories of other countries in Britain, even where these contain much that is relevant to thinking about the relationship between educational organisation, opportunity, achievement and social class (Jones 2003:157).


As Richard Hatcher, Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Central England in Birmingham, has noted, 'the private sector has always had an involvement in school education, as a supplier of goods and products' (Hatcher 2001:65). However, it was the Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major which sought to increase the level of that involvement, through the privatisation of school inspection, the creation of city technology colleges, and compulsory competitive tendering for services such as school meals and buildings maintenance.

Hatcher argued that there were two main reasons why New Labour was so keen to extend privatisation:

First, business participation is regarded as essential in order to 'modernise' the school system, in terms of innovation, efficiency and accountability.

Second, the government sees a strong British education industry as a vital new sector in the knowledge economy. That fledgling industry has to be fostered and nourished by the state until it is strong enough to compete with US and other competitors. This provides part of the explanation for such disparate phenomena as the massive state funding for ICT [information and communications technology] in schools, the attacks on many LEAs for inefficiency, ... and the undermining of all LEAs by the delegation of funding to schools which they can use to purchase services from the private sector (Hatcher 2001:65).

Education Action Zones

The creation of Education Action Zones was an early indication of the New Labour government's enthusiasm for privatising parts of the education service.

The Zones were to consist of clusters of schools in deprived areas. They would receive government grants and sponsorship from local businesses, and would assume some of the functions of the local education authority. They would be encouraged to innovate and allowed to dispense with the National Curriculum.

Blunkett announced the establishment of 25 Zones in June 1998. 'This is the beginning of an entirely new way of delivering the education service,' he said. 'It is about partnership based on success rather than outdated dogma on either side' (quoted in The Guardian 24 June 1998). The first twelve Zones began operating three months later with sponsorship from Blackburn Rovers, Cadbury Schweppes, Nissan, Rolls Royce, Kelloggs, British Aerospace, Tate and Lyle, American Express and Brittany Ferries.

The total number of Education Action Zones eventually reached 73, but in 2001 a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) suggested that they had largely failed to generate adequate private sponsorship or deliver on the promises made when they were set up. Education Action Zones: Meeting the Challenge, published on 26 January 2001, listed the lessons learned from auditing the first 25 zones. It showed that, overall, the Zones had received only about half the sponsorship expected from businesses, and that three Zones had received nothing at all (NAO 2001:12).

In June 2003 Ofsted reported that the number of pupils gaining five A*-C grades at GCSE had risen in one Education Action Zone, fallen in two, and remained static in the rest. Truancy by secondary pupils in the Zones was 'still disturbingly high' (The Guardian 2 June 2003).

Excellence in Cities

In March 1999 the much larger Excellence in Cities initiative was launched as a three-year programme to improve the education of inner-city children. The aim was to drive up standards to match those found in the best schools - now to be designated 'beacon schools'. Unlike the Education Action Zones, Excellence in Cities operated through the traditional channels of Whitehall, local authority and school.

Rachel Jones, a secondary school teacher and NUT officer, argued that Excellence in Cities

provides a highly diversified system of existing schools. The retention of open enrolment is further legitimated through the provision of specialised schools, yet which kinds of families will prefer their child to go to a language rather than a sports college? Which families will try to place their child in a Beacon school? Ironically, this has echoes of the 'Choice and Diversity' agenda of the last Conservative government (Jones 2001:45).
She was concerned that, while the initiative was presented as a strategy for raising standards in inner city schools, its targets did not relate to the majority of students:
Targets are set only for the highest attainers, and for those who often gain few if any formal qualifications at the end of compulsory schooling. It should be seen, then, as an intervention into the social exclusion debate rather than as a 'solution' to the standards agenda. It provides a response to the concerned middle classes who, while broadly supportive of State education, are fearful that their children might suffer from classroom disruption, and offers them the carrot of the Gifted and Talented strand. It also provides sustained intervention into the education and indeed the lives of disaffected students from socially 'non-compliant' families. What it never even begins to address is the root of this disaffection (Jones 2001:46).
In November 2001, schools minister Stephen Timms told Education Action Zone directors that no contracts would be renewed when they expired at the end of their five-year period, and that the more successful Zones would be incorporated into Excellence in Cities (Chitty 2013:97).

In November 2005 the DfES published Excellence in Cities: The National Evaluation of a Policy to Raise Standards in Urban Schools 2000-2003. The report, produced for the DfES by the National Foundation for Educational Research, concluded that the Excellence in Cities (EiC) initiative had resulted in higher levels of attainment in maths at Key Stage 3 (DfES 2005c:1), but that 'there was little evidence to suggest that the pupils in EiC areas were making more progress during Key Stage 4 than similar pupils ... in non-EiC areas' (DfES 2005c:1).

However, Partnership Coordinators, school senior managers and teachers were 'generally very positive about EiC' (DfES 2005c:3), seeing it as

  • widening diversity and extending opportunity by offering extension and learning support opportunities and through enhancements to the mainstream curriculum;
  • promoting inclusion and equality of opportunity, although there were also concerns that EiC did not directly impact on the majority of young people in inner city schools; and
  • creating a greater sense of partnership between schools and their LEAs (DfES 2005c:3).

Privatising local authorities

The government's next step was to privatise local education authority (LEA) services which were considered to be 'failing'.

The first LEAs to suffer this fate were Hackney, Liverpool and Leicester. In Hackney, following a critical Ofsted report, private sector companies were invited to submit tenders to run a number of services, including financial management, school advice and inspection, personnel and information technology. Mark Lushington, of Hackney Teachers Association, commented: 'Hackney schools are improving in the primary sector at two or three times the rate of the national average. We are looking for stability, not ignorant interference' (The Guardian 19 March 1999).

Writing in The Guardian (12 March 1999), the journalist and broadcaster Decca Aitkenhead argued that, for all their faults, local education authorities were important because they were 'part of the anatomy of local democracy'. She went on:

if local democracy is failing to deliver high quality services this is a problem, but the notion that the solution must be to do away with local democracy, rather than improve it, is odd (Aitkenhead 1999a).
In any case, she suggested, privatising an LEA would make little difference because an LEA 'has only limited responsibilities, and very little to do with the day-to-day running of the schools in its area':
If you wanted to make a dramatic improvement to Hackney's schools, changing the organisation which looks after the data analysis and the like would not be your biggest priority. If, on the other hand, your main concern was to start setting precedents for privatisation; if you wanted companies to secure some experience; if you wanted to steer towards a system where state education was no longer the norm, it would make excellent sense to start in Hackney (Aitkenhead 1999a).
A larger-scale privatisation followed in November 1999, when the whole of Islington's education service was handed over to a private company (The Guardian 23 November 1999).

In May 2000, school standards minister Estelle Morris revealed that consultants were being sent into the LEAs in Bradford, Rochdale and Waltham Forest to advise on how improvements could be made after Ofsted uncovered 'serious weaknesses' in their work; a month later she announced that Leeds LEA had lost control of its school services following a damning inspection report. By this time, ministers had recommended 'intervention' in fifteen local authorities (The Guardian 25 May, 14 June 2000).

The first privatised school

Park Barn County Secondary School (pictured) had been opened in the late 1950s to serve a large area of north-west Guildford, including the Park Barn and Westborough estates, described in The Surrey Advertiser (11 September 1998) as 'one of the most deprived areas of Guildford'. Its name was changed to King's Manor School in 1991, when parents were being given the right to choose their children's schools and it was felt that the 'Park Barn' name might limit the appeal of the school.

In 1997, following an internal review and an LEA inspection, the school began to address a number of issues including standards of achievement, the quality of teaching and the school's ethos. Guidance and policies relating to these were put in place, and the senior management team and faculty heads began to monitor the effects of their initiatives.

Ofsted inspected the school in the summer of 1998 and concluded that 'the school requires special measures, since it is failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education'. The inspection report (which is no longer available online) identified a number of factors affecting the school, including

  • its situation in 'an area of some social deprivation';
  • the attainment profile of pupils on entry, which is 'skewed increasingly towards below-average attainment';
  • the fact that, since 1994, the school had often received a 'significant proportion of pupils during the school year ... including pupils excluded from other schools';
  • a high proportion of travellers' children;
  • twenty-two per cent of the pupils were eligible for free school meals;
  • twenty-five per cent had special educational needs ranging from physical disabilities to emotional and behavioural difficulties; nine per cent were statemented.
In the aftermath of the inspection, Conservative-controlled Surrey County Council proposed closing the school. Five hundred angry parents attended a meeting to demand that it should be kept open. Ben Cartwright, chair of the King's Manor Community Group, told The Guardian that:
the school began to run into difficulties ten years ago. It was under-subscribed, and children excluded from other schools were sent there. Matters came to a head last year when the local education authority published a paper on the Future of Education in North Guildford. They recommended closing the school. As a result, the Community Group was set up. We won that battle, but the next thing the LEA suggested was privatisation (quoted in The Guardian 9 February 1999).
At the Education Committee meeting on 2 November, Surrey's Director of Education, Dr Paul Gray, promised to 'keep the options open for King's Manor School' and said that one of these options would be 'keeping the school under local authority control' (The Surrey Advertiser 6 November 1998).

Nine companies submitted 'expressions of interest'. Of these, the parents' preferred bidder was the Guildford Community Education Trust - the only local one, set up for the purpose by fourteen local churches. Surrey County Council would not say why it was not shortlisted.

Proposals had to be submitted by 18 January 1999. Writing in The Guardian, Francis Beckett said:

It was all done with obsessive secrecy ... Substantial bonuses were secretly offered to the successful bidder if pupil numbers rose. ...

[Surrey County Council] refused to tell parents, governors, teachers or even Mr Gardner anything at all about who is bidding or what is on offer (The Guardian 19 January 1999).

The Parents' Action Committee's request to have a representative on the King's Manor Contract Sub-Committee was refused, even though one could legally have been co-opted.

In the event, Surrey County Council promised 1m for refurbishment and 150,000 for new technology, and 3Es Enterprises was given a ten-year contract to run the school. Stanley Goodchild, Managing Director of 3Es, told The Surrey Advertiser that his firm was pledged

to transform the ethos of the school and drag it from a downward spiral that has seen pupil numbers fall by fifty per cent. We want this school to be a school of distinction and we want it to be owned by the local community (quoted in The Surrey Advertiser 26 February 1999).
With local support, he said, the school could become a 'college of national and international repute, with very clear specialisms' (The Surrey Advertiser 26 February 1999).

In June 2000, just weeks before the school was due to be privatised, Ofsted removed it from the 'special measures' category: inspectors 'did not find a single unsatisfactory lesson and were preparing to praise Kings' Manor for its enormous improvements', reported The Surrey Advertiser. Head teacher Bob Allan commented: 'This is the most professional way of answering the critics, who have said such ill-thought-through things. It's a real shot in the arm for everyone who has worked so hard here' (The Surrey Advertiser 30 June 2000).

Despite Ofsted's positive findings, King's Manor school - renamed King's College for the Arts and Technology - was handed over to 3Es and opened in September 2000 with Tracy Ward as Principal.

(For further details of the events surrounding King's Manor School, and what has happened to it since then, see my article King's Manor School - an experiment in privatisation?)

Specialist colleges

In January 2000 Tony Blair announced that hundreds of comprehensive schools would be turned into 'specialist colleges' over the following three years. Schools would achieve specialist status by raising 50,000 in business sponsorship, setting improvement targets and involving the local community. In return, they would receive a 100,000 capital grant and 120 extra per pupil per year for at least four years, and would be allowed to select up to ten per cent of their intake on the basis of aptitude (The Guardian 17 January 2000).

Estelle Morris, then school standards minister, said:

Unlike the last government, we are resourcing specialist colleges to work with neighbouring schools, both secondary and primary. So by the next election almost every secondary will either have specialist status or be linked to one that has. That way we'll get a diverse comprehensive system that offers parental choice (quoted in The Guardian 17 January 2000).
Clyde Chitty commented:
New Labour did not invent the idea of specialist schools ... they were very much the brainchild of the 1992-97 Major administration; but the Conservatives could hardly have imagined that incoming Labour ministers would not only enthusiastically embrace their project, but also extend it beyond recognition (Chitty 2001:23).
City academies

The creeping privatisation of education took a major step forward in March 2000, when David Blunkett announced that the government intended to create a network of 'city academies' - effectively private schools paid for by the state.

Closely modelled on the 'charter schools' in the US and the Conservatives' city technology colleges, city academies were the brainchild of Andrew Adonis. They would be public/private partnerships: businesses, churches and voluntary groups would build and manage them, and they would be outside the control of local authorities. In return for a 2m donation towards the capital costs, sponsors would be allowed to rename the school, control the board of governors, influence the curriculum, and select up to ten per cent of their pupils.

Boots the Chemist and Reg Vardy, the car dealer and creationist evangelical, were said to be planning new schools.

In his speech to the Social Market Foundation on 15 March 2000, Blunkett said:

These academies, to replace seriously failing schools, will be built and managed by partnerships involving the government, voluntary, church and business sponsors. They will offer a real challenge and improvements in pupil performance, for example through innovative approaches to management, governance, teaching and the curriculum, including a specialist focus in at least one curriculum area ...

The aim will be to raise standards by breaking the cycle of underperformance and low expectations. To be eligible for government support, the academies will need to meet clear criteria. They will take over or replace schools which are either in special measures or clearly underachieving (quoted in Chitty 2009a:103).

Critics suggested the scheme would lead to the establishment of 'a grammar school in every town', as advocated by John Major (The Observer 11 June 2000).

Graham Lane, education adviser to the Local Government Association, described the scheme as

the most dangerous proposal to come out of this government. This is the dismantling of comprehensive education. Private industry is working with the churches and the Government to destroy local accountability (quoted in The Observer 11 June 2000).
And writing in The Guardian (9 July 2004), Francis Beckett noted that:
the government's big idea for education turns out to be the one the Conservatives invented 19 years ago, and abandoned as a failure shortly afterwards. It is even run by the same man: Cyril Taylor, the businessman appointed by the Conservatives in 1986 to create 30 city technology colleges (Beckett 2004).

Curriculum and testing

1998 Crick Report: Citizenship

In November 1997 David Blunkett appointed Professor Bernard Crick (1929-2008) to chair a Citizenship Advisory Group. Crick was a 'distinguished political scientist and self-proclaimed polemicist' in the tradition of publicly-concerned scholars such as Sidney Webb and RH Tawney (The Guardian 19 December 2008).

The Group was asked

To provide advice on effective education for citizenship in schools - to include the nature and practices of participation in democracy; the duties, responsibilities and rights of individuals as citizens; and the value to individuals and society of community activity (Crick 1998:4).
The Advisory Group's final report, Education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools, was published in September 1998, in time for its recommendations to be included in the revision of the National Curriculum from 2000.

Education for citizenship, said the Report, should be

a vital and distinct statutory part of the curriculum, an entitlement for all pupils in its own right. We recognise that citizenship education can be enhanced by and can make significant contributions to - as well as draw upon - other subjects and aspects of the curriculum. We stress, however, that citizenship education is education for citizenship, behaving and acting as a citizen, therefore it is not just knowledge of citizenship and civic society; it also implies developing values, skills and understanding (Crick 1998:13).
The purpose of citizenship education in schools and colleges was
to make secure and to increase the knowledge, skills and values relevant to the nature and practices of participative democracy; also to enhance the awareness of rights and duties, and the sense of responsibilities needed for the development of pupils into active citizens; and in so doing to establish the value to individuals, schools and society of involvement in the local and wider community (Crick 1998:40).
Denis Lawton has described the Crick Report as 'clearly argued' and as 'a polished and diplomatic document with positive recommendations' (Lawton 2005:127).

There was, however, some concern about Crick's list of 'specific learning outcomes for each key stage' (Crick 1998:22): these were

considered problematic by all those educationists who were in favour of less prescriptive instructions to classroom teachers and who believed in a more 'humanistic' approach to the teaching-learning process (Chitty 2009a:235).

National Curriculum

The New Labour government inherited from the previous Tory administration the first review of the National Curriculum since its introduction.

In September 1999 David Blunkett announced that, from the following year, the statutory curriculum in most subjects would be reduced, to offer 'greater flexibility and choice for teachers and pupils' (The Guardian 10 September 1999). Primary schools would be required to teach English, maths, science, information technology (IT) and swimming as part of a 'broad curriculum'.

Revised guidelines were issued by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in November 1999. There were two handbooks: the Handbook for primary teachers covered Key Stages 1 and 2; the Handbook for secondary teachers covered Key Stages 3 and 4. (The secondary handbook shown here is the 2004 edition, which included changes made to the Key Stage 4 curriculum.) There were also separate booklets for each of the curriculum subjects.

Teachers' leaders criticised the new guidelines.

National Association of Head Teachers General Secretary David Hart said ministers had not gone far enough, and that at no stage of a child's education would teachers be able to use their professional judgment. 'The government seems to believe that nanny knows best when it comes to the curriculum', he said (The Guardian 10 September 1999).

For the Secondary Heads Association, General Secretary John Dunford described Blunkett's announcement as 'a further example of ministerial whim dictating what children are taught'. That was 'no way to attract the brightest and best young graduates into the teaching profession', he added (The Guardian 10 September 1999).

Others criticised the curriculum's focus on the learning of facts. In The Guardian (27 September 1999), Decca Aitkenhead argued that 'Stuffing pupils with facts and ridiculing progressive teaching won't help in Blair's brave new world' (Aitkenhead 1999b). Instead, we had to learn how to teach creativity:

Happily, large numbers of educationalists already know how. Unhappily, they are the very teachers Blair and Blunkett have heaped scorn on - the progressive teachers who knew that an effective education didn't consist of frightening children into learning facts, and who were ridiculed for this belief, and accused of ruining our schools (Aitkenhead 1999b).

National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies

While in opposition, the Labour Party had begun planning National Strategies for improving standards of literacy and numeracy among both children and adults.

Primary schools

In May 1996 David Blunkett, then shadow education secretary, had appointed a Literacy Task Force, chaired by Professor Michael Barber, to develop, in time for an incoming Labour government, a strategy for substantially raising standards of literacy in primary schools. Its report, The Implementation of the National Literacy Strategy, was published in August 1997, a month after the White Paper Excellence in Schools had proposed that at least an hour a day in primary schools should be spent on English and an hour on maths.

The Literacy Task Force urged that

By 2002 80% of 11 year olds should reach the standard expected for their age in English (i.e. Level 4) in the Key Stage 2 National Curriculum tests (Literacy Task Force 1997:5).
Achievement of this would require improvements in initial teacher training and in the professional development of teachers and others; provision of additional resources by central government; the introduction of 'a structured hour each day' devoted to 'literacy for all pupils' (Literacy Task Force 1997:7); and a greater focus on improving standards of literacy in local education authority planning.

This represented a considerable increase in government interference in the curriculum. Whereas the Tories had told teachers what to teach, New Labour would now tell them how to teach it: the 'Literacy Hour', introduced in September 1998, and the 'Numeracy Hour' the following year, spelt out content and teaching methods in enormous detail.

Brian Cox, who, as one of the Black Paper editors in the 1970s, had called for a return to traditional teaching methods, warned that opposition to progressivism had gone too far, and that the government's policy on the teaching of reading was 'too prescriptive, authoritarian and mechanistic' (Cox 1998). Writing in The Guardian (10 November 1998), he suggested that

Most English teachers believe that the study of English language and literature contributes to personal growth, the development of a creative imagination and an open mind resistant to propaganda. They are not going to be attracted to a profession which limits their functions to training in mechanistic skills (Cox 1998).
Children and students, he argued, should be 'encouraged to discriminate, to evaluate, to assess evidence and to read critically ... There needs to be more emphasis on motivation, on helping children to enjoy reading' (Cox 1998).

Professor Terry Wrigley has argued that:

The literacy hour separated English from the rest of the primary curriculum, curtailing opportunities for learning through reading and writing. The hour was divided into four sections, with most of the time devoted to whole-class instruction. This was 'interactive' only in a limited sense, encouraging a pseudodialogue dominated by teacher questions (Wrigley 2014:27).
In January 1998 school standards minister Stephen Byers announced ambitious literacy targets for every local education authority in England and said he would 'expose' complacent primary schools which 'coasted along' with above-average test results. The targets were designed to raise the proportion reaching the required standard in English tests from 57 per cent in 1996 to 80 per cent by 2002, as recommended by the Literacy Task Force (The Guardian 8 January 1998).

David Blunkett promised to resign if 80 per cent of 11-year-olds did not reach level 4. Initially, it looked as though that target might be met, but after a couple of years the rate of improvement slowed, so in 1999

the tests were simplified: the criteria were changed and fewer questions involved interpretation or reading between the lines as opposed to simple factual recognition, making it easier to classify struggling readers as having reached level 4. The texts themselves also became less demanding (Wrigley 2014:28).
Adult literacy and numeracy

In June 1998, David Blunkett appointed a Working Group on Post-School Basic Skills, chaired by Berlin-born statistician Sir Claus Moser (1922-2015), to make recommendations as to how levels of adult literacy and numeracy could be raised.

The Group was asked to identify and consider:

  • the effectiveness of different kinds of provision (including that supported by FEFC [Further Education Funding Council], LEAs [local education authorities], programmes for unemployed people and other initiatives) and coordination between them;
  • models of good practice in coherent delivery and funding of basic skills and ways to disseminate them;
  • ways of increasing the volume, quality and effectiveness of literacy and numeracy opportunities across all learning environments (Moser 1999:6).
The Moser Report Improving literacy and numeracy: a fresh start, was published on 26 February 1999. In his Foreword, Moser noted that:
Roughly 20% of adults - that is perhaps as many as 7 million people - have more or less severe problems with basic skills, in particular with what is generally called 'functional literacy' and 'functional numeracy' (Moser 1999:2).
Moser proposed a National Strategy for Adult Basic Skills - 'complementary to the strategies now in place for schools' - which would attract 'potential learners into study schemes' (Moser 1999:3) with the aim of helping half a million adults a year by 2002 (Moser 1999:6).

The Strategy would have ten main elements:

  • National targets
  • An entitlement to learn
  • Guidance, assessment and publicity
  • Better opportunities for learning
  • Quality
  • A new curriculum
  • A new system of qualifications
  • Teacher training and improved inspection
  • The benefits of new technology
  • Planning of delivery (Moser 1999:10).

Early Years Foundation Stage

In May 2000, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority published Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage, which was warmly welcomed by teachers. With its emphasis on the importance of play and its 'child-friendly' set of Early Learning Goals, it was seen as a vast improvement on the rigid and restrictive framework of Desirable Learning Outcomes produced under John Major's Conservative government (Chitty 2009a:223).

Other early years practitioners, however, noted that the English Guidance was less enlightened than the curriculum frameworks in Wales and Scotland, which placed less emphasis on letter and number knowledge.

Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage became the statutory curriculum framework for children of nursery and reception age in England when the Foundation Stage for early education was created following the 2002 Education Act.

Sex education

In July 2000 the DfEE issued new advice to schools on sex education, replacing Circular 5/94, Education Act 1993: Sex Education in Schools (details in the previous chapter), which had been published under the previous Conservative government in May 1994.

The new Circular, Sex and Relationship Education Guidance, was written to take account of

the revised National Curriculum, published in September 1999, the need for guidance arising out of the new Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) framework and the Social Exclusion Unit report on teenage pregnancy (DfEE 2000:3).
Sex and relationship education, the Circular said, was to be understood as
lifelong learning about physical, moral and emotional development. It is about the understanding of the importance of marriage for family life, stable and loving relationships, respect, love and care. It is also about the teaching of sex, sexuality, and sexual health. It is not about the promotion of sexual orientation or sexual activity - this would be inappropriate teaching (DfEE 2000:5).
With regard to schools' sex education policies, the key points were:
  • All schools must have an up-to-date sex and relationship education policy, drawn up by the governing body, and available to parents and for inspection.
  • This should be developed in consultation with parents and the wider community.
  • Primary schools should have clear parameters on what children will be taught in the transition year before moving to secondary school, and that parents be consulted.
  • Secondary schools' policies must include how they will teach the relevant National Curriculum Science topics and how they will provide sex and relationship education as part of PSHE.
  • Policies should be inclusive of all pupils.
  • Having a policy in line with this guidance will be a key part of meeting the criteria for sex and relationship education outlined in the National Healthy School Standard (DfEE 2000:13).

Further education

1997 Kennedy Report

The 1992 Further and Higher Education Act (details in the previous chapter) had introduced competition between further education providers and had provided for the establishment of the Further Education Funding Council (FEFC).

In June 1997, the FEFC published Learning Works: Widening Participation in Further Education, a report by its Widening Participation Committee, chaired by Helena Kennedy QC.

The report acknowledged that 'the introduction of competition in publicly-funded further education has been accompanied by improved responsiveness to learners' needs', but warned that, as some providers 'competed for those students most likely to succeed', competition also 'inhibited the collaboration needed to widen participation'. Further education needed to 'expand the demand for learning as a whole' (Kennedy 1997:35).

The committee proposed an 'Agenda for Change', which included:

  • a government campaign to create a 'learning nation';
  • redistribution of public resources 'towards those with less success in earlier learning';
  • the establishment of 'a lifetime entitlement to education ... which is free for young people and those who are socially and economically deprived';
  • the creation of 'a national network of strategic partnerships to identify local need, stimulate demand, respond creatively and promote learning';
  • encouraging employers to provide learning centres linked to a 'University for Industry';
  • reform of financial support to students to promote equity and 'Welfare to Work through Learning'; and
  • the setting of new national learning targets and local targets for participation (Kennedy 1997:13-14).

Higher education

When Tony Blair's first administration came to power in 1997, higher education faced 'exciting possibilities' but also 'very real difficulties' (Chitty 2009a:203). The overall participation rate had increased from 3 per cent in 1950 to around 33 per cent, and New Labour was committed to raising it to 50 per cent by 2010.

However, the salaries of university staff had been allowed to fall below the rate of inflation: in 1996 the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals estimated that it would require a 37 per cent pay rise to restore the pay levels of 1981 (Chitty 2009a:204).

1997 Dearing Review: Higher Education in the learning society

In May 1996, Conservative education secretary Gillian Shephard had appointed a committee chaired by Ron Dearing

to make recommendations on how the purposes, shape, structure, size and funding of higher education, including support for students, should develop to meet the needs of the United Kingdom over the next 20 years (Dearing 1997:1).
The committee's report, Higher Education in the learning society, published in July 1997, argued that there should be a greater focus on the development of students' learning skills:
The need for higher education to do more to develop a range of key skills in students, in addition to the cognitive capabilities traditionally associated with higher education, was a major theme of the evidence from employers, both in our own survey ... and in evidence from representative bodies (Dearing 1997:34).
The first of the committee's 93 recommendations (listed in Annex A of the report) was that the government
should have a long term strategic aim of responding to increased demand for higher education, much of which we expect to be at sub-degree level; and that to this end, the cap on full-time undergraduate places should be lifted over the next two to three years and the cap on full-time sub-degree places should be lifted immediately (Dearing 1997:100)
Dearing also recommended that:
  • the expansion of higher education should encourage greater participation among women, ethnic minorities, and students with disabilities (Dearing 1997:107);
  • there should be more use of Communications and Information Technology and provision of the necessary training for staff (Dearing 1997:121);
  • there should be diversity of provision of higher education (Dearing 1997:252);
  • public spending on higher education should increase with the growth in Gross Domestic Product (Dearing 1997:288);
  • public funding of institutions should take more account of student choice (Dearing 1997:297); and
  • the government should review how students repay loans (Dearing 1997:327).
Further reviews of higher education, said the Dearing committee, should take place every ten years:
We recommend to the Government that, in five years' time and subsequently every ten years, it constitutes a UK-wide independent advisory committee with the task of assessing the state of higher education; advising the Government on its financing and on ways in which, in future years, it can best respond to national needs; on any action that may be needed to safeguard the character and autonomy of institutions; and, in particular, on any changes required in the level of student support and contributions from graduates in employment (Dearing 1997:356).
1998 Education (Student Loans) Act

In the brief 1998 Education (Student Loans) Act (27 January), student loans were transferred to the private sector.

Teacher training

Circular 10/97

Replacing DFE Circulars 9/92 and 14/93, DfEE Circular 10/97 Teaching: High Status, High Standards, issued in July 1997, set out

new criteria which all courses of initial teacher training must meet and specifies the English and mathematics curricula which must be taught to all trainees on all courses of primary initial teacher training. The criteria set out the standard of knowledge, understanding and skills all trainees must demonstrate in order successfully to complete a course of initial teacher training and be eligible for Qualified Teacher Status (DfEE 1997b:1).
The requirements were in four parts:
  • Standards for the Award of Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) (Annex A);
  • Initial Teacher Training National Curriculum for Primary English (Annex B);
  • Initial Teacher Training National Curriculum for Primary Mathematics (Annex C); and
  • Requirements for all Courses of Initial Teacher Training (Annex D).
The QTS standards represented 'a full and detailed codification of requirements for new teachers' (DfEE 1997b:3):
New teachers must not be admitted to the profession if they fall short of these clear standards. The standards are intended to ensure that, before taking responsibility for their own classroom for the first time, every new teacher will have proved his or her ability in a wide range of knowledge, understanding and skills including effective teaching and assessment methods, classroom management, discipline and subject knowledge (DfEE 1997b:3).

Circular 4/98

Teaching: High Status, High Standards was reissued in May 1998 as Circular 4/98. It built on the standards for the award of qualified teacher status (QTS), the ITT national curricula for primary English and mathematics and the new course requirements as set out in Circular 10/97, in order to 'equip all new teachers with the knowledge, understanding and skills needed to play their part in raising pupil performance across the education system' (DfEE 1998b:3).

Circular 4/98 contained nine annexes. The first dealt with standards for the award of Qualified Teacher Status; the second with the use of information and communications technology in subject teaching; and the last with requirements for all ITT courses. The other six covered the ITT curriculum for primary and secondary English, maths and science.

Circular 4/98 thus 'set out in considerable detail what amounted to a compulsory curriculum for Initial Teacher Training' (Lawton 2005:126).

It was reissued in June 2001 with an addendum which summarised changes resulting from the introduction of ITT skills tests in numeracy, literacy and information and communications technology.

1998 Teaching and Higher Education Act

The 1998 Teaching and Higher Education Act (16 July) included

new and expanded arrangements for student loans, the abolition of maintenance grants and the introduction of tuition fees for undergraduate students (this last being a move that Labour had strenuously opposed before coming into office) (Chitty 2009a:204).

The Act was in four parts:

Part I, The teaching profession, provided for the establishment of a General Teaching Council (GTC) for England (Sections 1-7). The principal aims of the Council were:

(a) to contribute to improving the standards of teaching and the quality of learning, and
(b) to maintain and improve standards of professional conduct amongst teachers,

in the interests of the public (1(2)).

The Council would advise the Secretary of State (2) and 'establish and maintain a register of teachers' (3(1)). It would be expected 'to issue, and from time to time revise, a code laying down standards of professional conduct and practice expected of registered teachers' (5(1)).

A similar Council was provided for Wales (8-10), and the duties of Scotland's GTC were amended in relation to special educational needs (16-17). The Act also

  • required head teachers 'to possess a professional headship qualification' (18(2));
  • allowed the Secretary of State to make regulations concerning the induction period for teachers (19); and
  • extended the duties of HM Chief Inspector to include teacher training and in-service courses (20).
Part II, Financial provision for higher and further education, included new provisions for England and Wales relating to student maintenance grants and loans (22-25), and conditions regarding fees at further or higher education institutions (26). Similar arrangements were set out for Scotland (29-31).

Part III, Right to time off for study or training, made amendments to the 1996 Employment Rights Act.

Part IV, Miscellaneous and general, included matters relating to the inspection of vocational training in Wales (34-35); the powers of the funding councils (36-38); the use of the terms 'university' (39) and 'university college' (40); and the charitable status of further and higher education corporations (41).


The Act was met with a 'chorus of disapproval and forebodings' (Chitty 2009a:204), and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) reported an immediate fall in the number of applications from mature students, working-class students and ethnic minority students.

Many in Scotland were angered by the imposition of fees on students attending Scottish universities: one of the first acts of the devolved Scottish Parliament in 1999 was to abolish the measure.

1998 Green Paper Teachers: Meeting the Challenge of Change

In its 1994 policy document, Opening doors to a learning society, the Labour Party had promised to 'abolish the Teacher Training Agency and restore the partnership of schools and higher education institutions in the provision of initial teacher education' (Labour Party 1994:14).

This promise was not kept. New Labour's first Green Paper on the teaching profession, Teachers: meeting the challenge of change, published in December 1998, made clear that the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) would retain the power to 'withdraw a provider's accreditation if inspection shows that their training and assessment arrangements do not meet national requirements' (DfEE 1998c:45). Teacher training departments in higher education would thus continue to be scrutinised and regulated by the TTA as well as being inspected by Ofsted.

The government intended 'to make initial teacher training more flexible and more rigorous so that all new teachers have the skills to teach well' (DfEE 1998c:7). The strategy to achieve this comprised:

  • new national tests for all trainee teachers to guarantee high level skills in numeracy, literacy and Information and Communication Technology (ICT);
  • new pre-course provision for trainee teachers;
  • reviewing procedures for Qualified Teacher Status;
  • developing a network of schools pioneering innovative practice in school-led teacher training;
  • encouraging the widest possible range of applicants through more flexible training courses; and
  • extending employment-based routes into teaching (DfEE 1998c:7).

Lifelong learning

1998 Green Paper The Learning Age: a renaissance for a New Britain

In his Foreword to the Green Paper The Learning Age: a renaissance for a new Britain, published in February 1998, David Blunkett wrote that the government's approach to lifelong learning would be based on two key initiatives:

  • individual learning accounts which will enable men and women to take responsibility for their own learning with support from both Government and employers; and
  • the University for Industry which will offer access to a learning network to help people deepen their knowledge, update their skills and gain new ones (DfEE 1998a:8)
The principles which would underpin the government's vision were:
  • investing in learning to benefit everyone;
  • lifting barriers to learning;
  • putting people first;
  • sharing responsibility with employers, employees and the community;
  • achieving world class standards and value for money; and
  • working together as the key to success (DfEE 1998a:13).
In addition to the individual learning accounts and the University for Industry, further and higher education would be expanded to provide for an extra 500,000 people by 2002, and investment in basic literacy and numeracy skills would be doubled (DfEE 1998a:14).

A wide range of new bodies would be created, including a Training Standards Council, a National Skills Task Force, National Training Organisations, Regional Development Agencies and local learning centres, with greater cooperation between the Further Education Funding Council and local authorities.

The Green Paper noted the 'key role' of further education colleges and endorsed the findings of the Committee on Widening Participation, chaired by Helena Kennedy, which had 'set out a clear vision of how to build on this record to transform individual and national performance' (DfEE 1998a:47).

1999 White Paper: Learning to Succeed

The Green Paper's proposals formed the basis of the White Paper Learning to Succeed: a new framework for post-16 learning, published in June 1999.

The government's vision of the 'Learning Age', it said, was

to build a new culture of learning and aspiration which will underpin national competitiveness and personal prosperity, encourage creativity and innovation and help build a more cohesive society. We want everyone to benefit from the opportunities that learning brings both in personal growth and the enrichment of communities.

This vision takes account of the sea changes that have taken place in the economy, particularly the impact of information and communication technology in the workplace. Employers rightly put a premium on adaptability and the capacity to learn new skills. The strengths of the past apprenticeship and craft system need to be replicated in a new age, while meeting the challenge of a rapidly changing competitive economy. In the digital age, learning must take place 'on-site' in small and medium sized companies as well as in large businesses (DfEE 1999:13).

More details were given of the Green Paper's proposals for Individual Learning Accounts and the University for Industry.

Individual Learning Accounts were described as 'a major strand in the Government's programme for a lifelong learning revolution' (DfEE 1999:56). The Government had already announced 'a substantial package of incentives for individual learning accounts':

  • for the first million starter accounts, a contribution of 150 for each individual in the first year of the account, subject to a small contribution from them;
  • a 20% discount off the cost of eligible courses on spending up to 500 in each year (this applies from the second year of an account, if the individual has a starter account);
  • an 80% discount off the cost of certain other courses, including computer literacy;
  • employees will not be subject to tax or National Insurance Contributions on any employer's contribution to a learning account for eligible learning, as long as the employer extends the facility to the lowest paid employees in the company on a similar basis; and
  • contributions made by employers will be tax deductible (DfEE 1999:56).
The University for Industry (UfI), to be launched nationally in the autumn of 2000, would be 'a major plank in the Government's programme to deliver a learning society' (DfEE 1999:57). It would
  • provide adult learners with greater choice and flexibility by stimulating innovative modes of provision and delivery which are responsive to people's needs and circumstances;
  • work with a wide range of partners to provide flexible access to high quality, relevant innovative learning opportunities;
  • offer a free, comprehensive information and advice service; and
  • broker a national learning network with learning materials which will allow people to learn at home, in the workplace or in learning centres based in their communities (DfEE 1999:57).
The new Learning and Skills Council, to replace the Further Education Funding Council and the Training and Enterprise Councils, would be responsible for allocating around 5bn of public money and for the welfare of more than five million learners; it would work closely with the Ufl 'to improve the overall coherence and responsiveness of education and training provision for adults and help embed lifelong learning in people's daily lives' (DfEE 1999:57).

The Council would be responsible for the funding, planning, management and quality assurance of all education and training (other than higher education) for those over the age of 16. The Chair and members of the Council would be appointed by the Secretary of State; employers would constitute the largest single group.

The Learning and Skills Bill, based on the White Paper, was presented to the Commons in December 1999. It was criticised by some for giving too much power to the Learning and Skills Council and the various quangos and other bodies involved.

2000 Learning and Skills Act

The first two parts of the 2000 Learning and Skills Act (28 July) provided for the establishment of the Learning and Skills Council for England (Sections 1-29), and for the National Council for Education and Training for Wales (30-51).

The main duties of the two Councils (set out in Sections 2-4 for England and 31-33 for Wales) were:

  • to ensure the provision of 'proper facilities' for the education (other than higher education) and training of persons aged 16 to 19;
  • to ensure the provision of 'reasonable facilities' for the education and training of persons over 19;
  • to encourage individuals to undergo post-16 education and training; and
  • to encourage employers to participate in and contribute to the costs of post-16 education and training.
Part III of the Act, Inspections in England,
  • provided for the establishment of the Adult Learning Inspectorate (52-59), its nine members to be appointed by the Secretary of State;
  • extended the Chief Inspector's remit to include most further education institutions catering for 16- to 19-year-olds (60-68); and
  • required the Inspectorate and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in England to create a Common Inspection Framework by devising 'a common set of principles applicable to all inspections' (69(1)).
Similar arrangements were provided for Wales in Part IV, Inspections in Wales (73-88).

Part V Miscellaneous and General,

  • provided for the abolition of the Further Education Funding Councils (89-91);
  • prohibited the public funding of courses leading to external qualifications except where the qualification had been approved by the Secretary of State or by an agency on his/her behalf (96-103);
  • made amendments to the 1996 Education Act and the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act regarding the status of sixth-form education (110-113);
  • made new rules relating to the provision of support services for 13- to 19-year-olds in England (114-122) and for 11- to 25-year-olds in Wales (123-129); and
  • allowed city technology colleges to be renamed city academies (130).

2000 Standards in Scotland's Schools etc. Act

The 1998 Scotland Act provided for the establishment of a devolved Parliament in Scotland, the first election for which took place on 6 May 1999. Labour won 56 of the 129 seats and, with the Liberal Democrats, formed the first Scottish Executive. The first meeting of the new Parliament took place on 12 May 1999.

One of the earliest pieces of legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament was the 2000 Standards in Scotland's Schools etc. Act (14 July), a wide-ranging Act which included measures relating to:

  • national priorities in education (Section 4);
  • inspection of education authorities and schools (9-12);
  • the abolition of corporal punishment (16);
  • the role of School Boards (26-31);
  • the education of pre-school children (32-39);
  • rights of appeal against exclusion from school (41);
  • the functions of the General Teaching Council (45);
  • the abolition of the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee for School Education (55); and
  • guidance to education authorities regarding the provision of sex education (56).
In addition, Sections 17-23 provided for the abolition of self-governing status for schools by repealing Part I of the 1989 Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Act, in which Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government had attempted to introduce what were effectively grant-maintained schools into Scotland. Few such schools had in fact been established.

Ofsted: Woodhead resigns

Chris Woodhead, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector and head of Ofsted, resigned in November 2000 and went off to write articles for the Daily Telegraph, in which he vigorously criticised New Labour's education policies. Some saw his departure as 'the final lifting of a deadweight on morale and hope' (Riddell 2000).

He was replaced a month later by Mike Tomlinson (1942- ) who, having gained a BSc in chemistry at Durham and a Postgraduate Certificate in Education at Nottingham, had served as a secondary school science teacher until 1978, when he joined Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools (HMI).

Tomlinson held the post of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector from December 2000 until his retirement in 2002. He was then invited to chair the committee which reported on 14-19 Curriculum and Qualifications Reform (details below).

2001 Green Paper Schools - building on success

David Blunkett's last education green paper was Schools - building on success. Published in February 2001, when a general election was just four months away, it trumpeted the achievements of the first Blair administration and set out an agenda for a second term.

Blunkett was clearly anxious to demonstrate that much had been achieved during his time as education secretary:

When we published the Excellence in Schools White Paper in July 1997, we set out a clear agenda. We have stuck to it firmly and, taken together, the reforms of that Paper are delivering significant results (DfEE 2001:12).
Schools - building on success argued that the government had fulfilled its promise to 'get the basics right in primary schools'. Standards of literacy and numeracy had been 'transformed', thanks to 'an historic partnership for change between teachers, parents and Government'. The aim, it said, now was to 'bring about a similar transformation in secondary schools' (DfEE 2001:4).

It was critical of the 'historic poor performance' of comprehensive schools, though it acknowledged that this was 'rooted in society and the economy' (DfEE 2001:4). However, significant change was now taking place:

Expectations of pupils, and their achievements at GCSE and rates of progression to post-16 education, are rising steadily. Provision within schools is increasingly differentiated, including far more ability setting and a broadening of curriculum options. Under the influence of local management of schools and a new culture of strong school leadership by headteachers and governors, both greatly extended by this Government, schools are forging distinct missions and ethos with increasing confidence - whether as specialist schools, community or foundation schools with a particular strength and a strong sense of individual identity, or faith schools (DfEE 2001:5).
The second-term priorities would be:
  • to promote high standards and to narrow inequalities;
  • to tailor education to 'the talents, aspirations and potential of individual pupils' (DfEE 2001:15);
  • to offer opportunities for 'high standards in both academic and vocational subjects' (DfEE 2001:16);
  • to promote innovation and the use of information and communications technology;
  • to encourage 'diversity among secondary schools' and extend 'autonomy for successful schools' (DfEE 2001:16);
  • to 'demonstrate trust in the informed professional judgement of teachers while maintaining a focus on accountability and standards' (DfEE 2001:17); and
  • to 'encourage partnerships between the education service and all those who have an interest in its success' (DfEE 2001:17).
There would be modernisation of secondary education, with an emphasis on extending diversity; and modernisation of the teaching profession, with reform of initial teacher training, new career paths and improved leadership.

Second term: 2001-2005

2001 general election

Labour manifesto

Labour's manifesto for the 2001 election, Ambitions for Britain, said:

Education remains Labour's top priority. Excellence for the many, not just the few is our driving passion. Our goal is to develop education to harness the individual talents of every pupil.

Since 1997 rising standards have been achieved through major new investment and significant reforms: 17,000 schools have had vital repairs or refurbishment; 20,000 schools are now connected to the internet; there are nearly half a million fewer primary pupils in classes of more than 30; over 150,000 teachers are set to receive a 2,000 pay rise above the usual annual increase; every school is getting additional grants of up to 110,000 paid direct; and there are 11,000 more teachers and over 44,000 more support staff and classroom assistants (Labour Party 2001:18).

If re-elected, Labour would
  • extend the provision of nursery places to all 3-year-olds;
  • set targets for an 85 per cent success rate for 11-year-olds in English and maths;
  • 'radically modernise' comprehensive schools;
  • recruit an extra 10,000 teachers to improve the adult:pupil ratio; and
  • employ more adults to support teachers in the classroom (Labour Party 2001:18-19).
With regard to higher education, the manifesto declared that
We will not introduce 'top-up' fees and have legislated to prevent them (Labour Party 2001:20).
Conservative manifesto

In their manifesto, Time for Common Sense, the Conservatives, led by William Hague, promised to introduce 'Free Schools':

We will free every school in the country from bureaucratic control and allow them to shape their own character.

Heads and Governors will have complete responsibility for running their schools. They will be able to choose how to reward excellence amongst their teachers. And they will be able to use, as a criterion for admission, the willingness of a pupil or parent to subscribe to a home-school agreement which sets out the responsibilities of students and their school to each other (Conservative Party 2001).

Successful schools would be allowed to expand to take more pupils, so that more parents would get their first choice of school for their children.

A Conservative government would 'allow churches and other faith communities, groups of parents, charitable foundations and companies to set up new schools' and would 'give parents the right to call for a special Ofsted inspection if they fear that their child's school is failing' (Conservative Party 2001).

Like Labour, the Tories promised 'we will not introduce top-up fees' (Conservative Party 2001).

A second landslide

New Labour won a second landslide victory in the general election in June 2001 with a Commons majority of 166, only slightly less than in 1997.

The two main themes of Tony Blair's first term - an increase in selection under the guise of specialisation and the promotion of privatisation - would be taken further in his second term and would be joined by a third - increased involvement of the churches and other religious groups in educational provision.

Following the election, David Blunkett left the education department to become Home Secretary. He bequeathed to his successor, Estelle Morris, who headed the renamed Department for Education and Skills (DfES), an education system containing 'a hierarchy of at least 16 types of secondary schools, each with its own legal status and unique admission procedures' (Chitty 2013:93):

  • private (independent) schools
  • city technology colleges
  • city academies
  • grammar schools
  • foundation specialist schools
  • voluntary specialist schools
  • community specialist schools
  • beacon schools
  • foundation schools
  • voluntary aided schools
  • voluntary controlled schools
  • community schools
  • foundation special schools
  • community special schools
  • Pupil Referral Units
  • Learning Support Centres

The schools

Tony Blair's second administration set out its school proposals in the White Paper Schools - achieving success, which formed the basis of the 2002 Education Act.

2001 White Paper Schools - achieving success

In her Foreword to Schools - achieving success, published in September 2001, Estelle Morris wrote that

We have the best generation of teachers, a far better understanding of what works in the classroom, more support from business and the wider community and a Government that has delivered on its commitment to invest, and will continue to do so (DfES 2001:3).
Britain needed to 'transform the knowledge and skills of its population' (DfES 2001:5) by creating 'a school system which values opportunity for all, and embraces diversity and autonomy as the means to achieve it' (DfES 2001:6).

In primary schools, there had been 'clear signs of progress', but this had been 'neither rapid nor dramatic' (DfES 2001:13). As to secondary education, comprehensive schools had overcome 'the ill effects of rigid selection' and had 'done a great deal to improve opportunity', but too often they had neglected 'the needs of individual pupils' (DfES 2001:16).

Education law would be 'modernised' so as to 'deregulate the system, and increase the ability of schools to innovate and to respond to innovation' (DfES 2001:71). Measures would include:

  • allowing pupils to take Key Stage 3, GCSE and advanced qualifications earlier in their school lives;
  • promoting greater rigour in tackling poor behaviour;
  • allowing the establishment of 'all-age City Academies and for schools on the City Academy model in disadvantaged rural as well as urban areas' (DfES 2001:72);
  • giving schools more freedom to manage their own affairs;
  • requiring LEAs to 'involve an external partner in turning round a failing school' (DfES 2001:72);
  • ensuring greater flexibility in the curriculum at Key Stage 4;
  • raising standards for pupils from ethnic minority groups;
  • widening the membership of the General Teaching Council (for example, to include trainee teachers);
  • clarifying and simplifying key aspects of school admissions law and guidance;
  • tackling 'failure and under-performance' in local education authorities (DfES 2001:73);
  • allowing school governors to run 'a wide range of family and community facilities and services, including childcare' (DfES 2001:73);
  • deregulating teacher employment provisions;
  • setting 'standards to be attained by teachers at certain stages of their careers' (DfES 2001:74); and
  • giving schools the power to use appraisal data in pay decisions.
Schools - Achieving Success made clear the government's intention that religious groups should play an even greater role in education. To this end, the churches' capital contribution for voluntary aided schools would be cut from 15 per cent to 10 per cent (DfES 2001:68), and faith groups would be encouraged to work with the private sector in running weak or failing schools (DfES 2001:44).

The government's policy of increasing the number of faith schools (DfES 2001:37) was already being implemented as the White Paper was published: among the forty projects being planned were a 12m Islamic secondary school for girls in Birmingham, an evangelical Christian school in Leeds and a new Jewish school in London. The Salvation Army and the Seventh Day Adventists were also said to be evaluating 'opportunities created by the white paper' (The Observer 30 September 2001).

The White Paper's proposals, claimed the government, constituted

a major reform of our education system, driving up standards for all, enhancing the diversity of secondary education and increasing its ability to respond to the talents and aspirations of each individual student (DfES 2001:71).
2002 Education Act

The White Paper formed the basis of the 2002 Education Act (24 July).

It was a long and detailed Act (more than 200 pages) in eleven parts, which dealt with:

1 New legal frameworks to facilitate innovation and allow governors to form companies;

2 Financial assistance for education and childcare;

3 Maintained schools: government; financing; admissions, exclusion, attendance;

4 Powers of intervention: in schools and in local education authorities;

5 School organisation: academies and city colleges;

6 and 7 The curriculum in England and Wales: the National Curriculum and exceptions to it;

8 Teachers: pay and conditions, appraisal, further education, health and fitness, misconduct, General Teaching Councils;

9 Childcare and nursery education: duties and powers of local education authorities;

10 Independent schools: regulation, registration, children with special educational needs;

11 Miscellaneous and general: general duties of local education authorities and governing bodies, education and training outside schools, student loans, Education Action Zones, school inspections, qualifications etc.

Faith schools

In September 2001, angry Protestants shouted abuse and hurled stones at five-year-old girls making their way to Holy Cross Roman Catholic School in the Ardoyne, and Islamist fundamentalists destroyed the World Trade Center in New York.

In December, the Home Office published Ted Cantle's investigation into the riots, fuelled by ethnic and religious divisions, which had taken place in northern towns during the summer. His report, Community Cohesion, which echoed the findings of Sir Herman Ouseley's report on the Easter rioting in Bradford, concluded that the disturbances were the result of communities becoming increasingly isolated along racial, cultural and religious lines, and that faith schools were, potentially at least, part of the problem:

a significant problem is posed by existing and future mono-cultural schools, which can add significantly to the separation of communities described above. The development of more faith based schools may, in some cases, lead to an increase in mono-cultural schools but this problem is not in any way confined to them. We believe that all schools owe a responsibility to their pupils to promote, expand and enrich their experience, by developing contacts with other cultures ... or by ensuring that, as far as possible, they are represented within the school intake. ...

We would therefore, propose that all schools - whether faith or non-faith based - should seek to limit their intake from one culture or ethnicity. They should offer, at least 25%, of places to reflect the other cultures or ethnicities within the local area (Cantle 2001:33).

In the light of these events, it was hardly surprising that the government's policy of creating more faith schools faced widespread opposition. A YouGov/Observer poll of nearly 6,000 people found that 80 per cent disapproved and only 11 per cent were in favour (The Observer 11 November 2001). The new education secretary, Estelle Morris, was said to be less than happy about the policy and may well have privately agreed with Professor Richard Dawkins who, in an open letter to her, said 'After everything we've been through this year, to persist with financing segregated religion in sectarian schools is obstinate madness' (The Observer 30 December 2001).

When the education bill was debated in the Commons, 45 Labour MPs defied the party whip and backed an amendment, proposed by former health secretary Frank Dobson, to require new faith schools to take at least a quarter of their pupils from other religious backgrounds or none (Hansard House of Commons 6 February 2002 Col 867). The amendment was defeated.

The issue became even more controversial when The Observer (13 March 2002) reported that Emmanuel City Technology College in Gateshead, set up under the Tories with 2m of sponsorship from evangelical Christian Sir Peter Vardy, had hosted a 'creationist' conference and that senior staff had urged teachers to promote biblical fundamentalism. Pupils, it was claimed, were being taught 'creationism' as science.

In the Commons, Liberal Democrat MP Jenny Tonge asked the Prime Minister if he was 'happy to allow the teaching of creationism alongside Darwin's theory of evolution in state schools?' Tony Blair replied:

I am very happy ... I know that the hon. Lady is referring to a school in the north-east, and I think that certain reports about what it has been teaching are somewhat exaggerated. It would be very unfortunate if concerns about that issue were seen to remove the very strong incentive to ensure that we get as diverse a school system as we properly can. In the end, a more diverse school system will deliver better results for our children (Hansard House of Commons 13 March 2002 Col 887).
Liberal Democrat MPs demanded a government inquiry, senior church figures expressed their concerns, and a group of prominent scientists demanded that Emmanuel should be reinspected. Ofsted initially refused, but on 25 March it emerged that Chief Inspector Mike Tomlinson had decided to contact the school to seek clarification of its policy on science teaching (The Guardian 26 March 2002).

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Sir William Stubbs, chair of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), said that 'Creationism is not on the curriculum' and that, while schools were 'free to present such information', they should 'make it clear that the body of scientific opinion sided with Darwin' (BBC News 27 March 2002).

It became clear that Emmanuel College was not the only state-funded school teaching creationism: the Seventh Day Adventist School in Tottenham and several Muslim schools were also doing so, and there were plans for another creationist school at Torfaen in South Wales, where Baptist minister Richard Harrison, a leading supporter of the project, described evolution as 'a hoax' (The Guardian 9 April 2002).

At the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in March 2002, delegates voted decisively to 'press the government to abandon the proposed increase in faith schools' (The Guardian 27 March 2002); at the National Union of Teachers conference, delegates criticised the decision to turn Ducie High School, a multicultural school in Manchester's Moss Side, into an academy run by the Church Schools Company (The Guardian 1 April 2002).

As the furore grew, leading clerics and scientists wrote to the Prime Minister expressing their 'growing anxiety' about the spread of faith schools and the introduction of creationist teaching. Downing Street officials told the group that Tony Blair would respond to their concerns 'in the near future' (The Observer 7 April 2002).

In 2004, researchers at Bristol University, led by Professor Simon Burgess, warned that, with the number of Muslim schools increasing, England's inner-city playgrounds were becoming monocultural zones which were potential breeding grounds for intolerance and racism (The Guardian 1 April 2004).

Muslim academics and educationalists rejected such claims and argued that state education was failing to meet the needs of Muslim pupils. In a policy document, Muslims on Education, published in June 2004, they demanded special classes in Islamic subjects, prayer rooms in secondary schools, and more single-sex education (The Guardian 8 June 2004).

The issue was addressed by Chief Inspector of Schools David Bell in a speech to the Hansard Society in January 2005. Noting that there were now around a hundred Muslim, a hundred evangelical Christian, and fifty Jewish schools, he said:

I worry that many young people are being educated in faith-based schools, with little appreciation of their wider responsibilities and obligations to British society. ...

The growth in faith schools needs to be carefully but sensitively monitored by government to ensure that pupils at all schools receive an understanding of not only their own faith but of other faiths and the wider tenets of British society. We must not allow our recognition of diversity to become apathy in the face of any challenge to our coherence as a nation. ...

I would go further and say that an awareness of our common heritage as British citizens, equal under the law, should enable us to assert with confidence that we are intolerant of intolerance, illiberalism and attitudes and values that demean the place of certain sections of our community, be they women or people living in non-traditional relationships (quoted in The Guardian 18 January 2005).

Senior Muslims condemned his comments as 'irresponsible' and 'derogatory', but Trevor Phillips, chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, said: 'We can choose ... whether we want to bring our diversity together in a single rainbow or whether we allow our differences to fester into separate cultures and separate communities' (The Guardian 19 January 2005).

Some members of the government were clearly becoming concerned. Schools minister Stephen Twigg (1966- ), for example, urged the schools to 'promote understanding' between different religions. 'All schools need to work together to meet the needs of every pupil. Faith schools can and should be part of this collaboration', he said. He called on Muslim schools to promote 'tolerance and harmony' and he warned that 'religious segregation in schools must not put our coherence at risk' (The Guardian 18 February 2005).

None of the concerns prevented Tony Blair from going into the general election in May 2005 with a manifesto promising even greater control of state education for religious groups and businesses.

A post-comprehensive era?

Meanwhile, the government continued to undermine the ideal of comprehensive education.

In December 2001 school standards minister Stephen Timms announced a 500,000 scheme for partnerships between 28 grammar schools and nearby secondary modern and comprehensive schools. It was the first time a Labour government had given extra money to grammar schools as a group (The Guardian 8 December 2001).

The scheme met with widespread criticism. Liberal Democrat education spokesman Phil Willis commented:

The last nail has been driven into the coffin of the comprehensive system. A Labour government that promised to end selection has now indicated a return to wholesale selection by ability. This is a sad day for those who believe in the principle of comprehensive education (quoted in The Guardian 8 December 2001).
In the view of Margaret Tulloch, spokesperson for the Campaign for State Education,
It would have been far better to have spent 500,000 on the sort of research and review they carried out in Northern Ireland on the effect of selection on young children, which as a result called for ending the 11-plus. That would be a better use of public money than papering over the cracks of a discredited system (quoted in The Guardian 8 December 2001).
And Secondary Heads Association General Secretary John Dunford said:
It is a bizarre use of public money to create a more diverse system and then have to provide additional funding for the diverse parts of the system to collaborate (quoted in The Guardian 8 December 2001).
But the government's campaign against the comprehensive principle was relentless. Tony Blair's press secretary Alastair Campbell declared that 'the day of the bog-standard comprehensive' was over, and Blair himself talked of 'a post-comprehensive era of secondary education' (quoted in Chitty 2013:94). The right-wing press responded with headlines such as 'Comprehensives Have Failed, says Blair' (Daily Telegraph 13 February 2001) and 'Death of the Comprehensive' (Daily Mail 13 February 2001).

Estelle Morris angered teachers when she said that there were some schools she 'wouldn't touch with a bargepole' (The Guardian 25 June 2002). Writing in The Observer (23 June 2002), she argued that 'Equality of opportunity will never be achieved by giving all children the same education' and that the days of the 'one size fits all' comprehensive were over. She went on:

I believe in the comprehensive ideal. There is no other system that can deliver what the country needs. But it has not solved the problems it was hoped it would solve. It is not delivering for every child. This Government is more ambitious for comprehensive education. We have to move on and modernise. ...

We have to encourage every single one of our secondary schools to develop their own sense of mission and play to their strengths. That's why we will invest in specialist schools and training schools, beacon schools and city academies, each school choosing its own identity within the comprehensive family (Morris 2002).

Former Labour deputy leader Roy Hattersley commented:
Poor Estelle Morris - trapped between Downing Street and reality - cannot decide how much odium she is required to heap on comprehensive schools. The article under her name in The Observer last week was her second attempt to pander to the prejudices of the southern suburbs without alienating the teachers on whom education reform depends (Hattersley 2002).
Estelle Morris resigned in October 2002, and her successor, Charles Clarke, immediately announced that he would speed up the creation of specialist schools (The Guardian 31 October 2002).

But Clarke appeared to be somewhat shaken at the results of research at York University into the effects of selection. Professor David Jesson compared the results of two local education authorities with similar profiles, one with a comprehensive system and one with a selective system. His research showed that 52 per cent of pupils in the comprehensive authority achieved five or more good GCSEs; in the authority with grammar schools the figure was 48 per cent (The Guardian 15 October 2002).

In December 2002 Clarke told MPs that he wanted local authorities to take a fresh look at the evidence that selective schools 'inhibited' educational opportunities for a wide range of young people (The Guardian 12 December 2002); and in January 2003 he published a report he had commissioned on underachievement in Kent, which had 39 of England's remaining 164 grammar schools.

Compiled by Chief Inspector David Bell, the report showed that the proportion of failing schools in Kent was more than three times the national average, despite a lower than average number of pupils on free school meals. The county also had almost twice the proportion of poor secondary schools as authorities with similar levels of deprivation. Martin Frey, spokesman for the Kent-based Stop the Eleven Plus campaign, said: 'He is the first education secretary to take the damaging effects of selection seriously since Margaret Thatcher' (The Guardian 17 January 2003).

After that, however, Clarke said nothing more on the issue, leading some to suspect that he had been told to keep quiet about it.

But the arguments about selection and specialisation continued.

A report by the Institute of Public Policy Research said parental choice was an 'illusion' in London and it urged that control over admissions - including those to grammar schools, church schools and foundation schools - should be handed back to local authorities (The Guardian 1 February 2003).

Writing in The Guardian, the journalist and comprehensive-school campaigner Fiona Millar argued that the government's policy on admissions to secondary education was 'neither coherent nor fair'. She criticised the way ministers congratulated 'successful' schools on their results:

These schools are often wholly or partially selective by ability, or in some cases city technology colleges, former grant maintained or church schools, which are also able to set their own admissions and use opaque 'banding' tests or interviews to engineer more favourable intakes for themselves (Millar 2003).
On 22 May 2003 the Labour-dominated House of Commons Education Select Committee published its report on Secondary Education: Diversity of Provision, which criticised the government for spending 400m on specialist schools without any real evidence that the policy was working:
This and previous Governments' emphasis on choice has resulted in a significant mismatch of expectations. Government rhetoric on choice has, perhaps inevitably, not been matched by reality in the application of parental preference used to allocate school places (CESC 2003:19).
The committee also disapproved of allowing specialist schools to select up to ten per cent of their students on the basis of aptitude, which ministers repeatedly insisted was different from ability:
We are not satisfied that any meaningful distinction between aptitude and ability has been made and we have found no justification for any reliance on the distinction between them (CESC 2003:37).
In October 2003, a report by Ofsted and the Audit Commission, School place planning: The influence of school place planning on school standards and social inclusion, warned that the government's policy of allowing parents to choose their child's school was polarising the education system and trapping poor children in the worst schools:
The increasing polarisation between popular and unpopular schools demands more immediate and decisive action. The weakest and least popular schools frequently serve the poorest, most vulnerable and most disaffected groups. Councils must not allow these schools to sink further and this requires clarity of approach where the strategy for overall school place provision is aligned with the strategy for the improvement of individual schools. The expansion of popular schools by itself is no panacea (Ofsted/Audit Commission 2003:6).
None of this prevented the government from pursuing its policy of promoting a diversity of different types of school.

The academies programme

The first three academies opened in September 2002. Kate Griffin, incoming President of the Secondary Heads Association, criticised them as divisive. 'I fear that the effect of creating a ladder of school categories, some of which attract additional funding, will be the creation of a multi-tier system of schools', she said (The Guardian 10 September 2002).

Nine more academies opened in 2003, and a further five in 2004, bringing the total to 17.

Concerns about the academies programme related to:

  • escalating costs;
  • poor performance;
  • replacement of schools that were not 'failing';
  • imposition of academies despite local opposition;
  • the involvement of faith groups;
  • selection by stealth;
  • pupil exclusions;
  • lack of LEA control and support;
  • dubious use of public funds;
  • teachers' pay and conditions; and
  • a two-tier education system.

Escalating costs

The government had estimated that each academy would cost around 10m to establish: 2m from the sponsor and 8m from the taxpayer. In fact, the Business Academy in Bexley had cost 31m; the City of London Academy in Southwark, 33.7m; and the average capital budget for each of the first 17 academies was 25m (The Guardian 20 July 2004). Businessman and philanthropist Sir Peter Lampl, who had been knighted by Labour for his services to education, described the academies programme as an 'expensive and untested' experiment (The Guardian 31 August 2004).

Poor performance

Within six months of its opening, the Greig City Academy in Haringey had been condemned by Ofsted for endemic indiscipline and below standard lessons. In London, the Capital City Academy had problems with the design of its building and ran into financial difficulties, resulting in seven staff redundancies: its head resigned after less than a year in post (The Guardian 20 July 2004).

Exam tables for 2004 showed that of the eleven academies listed, six had improved their results at GCSE, five had failed to show any improvement and one had the second-worst results in England (The Guardian 13 January 2005).

The replacement of schools that were not 'failing'

Academies were supposed to replace 'failing' schools, but this was not always so, as the case of Northcliffe School, near Doncaster, showed. The website of the local Parents' Action Group (no longer online) gave the following facts about the school:

Of the 17 secondary schools in Doncaster, Northcliffe was the most disadvantaged. 29.5 per cent of its pupils were entitled to free school meals, 17 per cent had special educational needs, and 5.3 per cent had statements of special need - all well above average.

In 2001 Ofsted described Northcliffe as 'a good and improving school', a member of the staff won a prestigious Teacher of the Year award, and the school received a School Achievement Award. In 2002 two members of staff achieved Advanced Skills Teacher status and the school received another School Achievement Award. Attendance levels rose annually for four years, and in 2003 Northcliffe students produced the best SATs and GCSE results in the history of the school.

Three months later, Ofsted suddenly decided the school required 'special measures' and it emerged that Peter Vardy, sponsor of Emmanuel City Technology College in Gateshead, had put in a bid to turn the school into an academy. Local parents were convinced that the Ofsted finding was simply an excuse to justify closing the school.

The imposition of academies despite local opposition

Attempts were made to impose academies on communities which did not want them.

In Hackney, a campaign by parents prevented the replacement of Thomas Abney primary school (which had been praised by Ofsted) with an academy (The Guardian 20 July 2004); and in South Middlesbrough, Merton and Doncaster, parents campaigned vigorously against proposed academies.

Some of these campaigns were successful: in October 2004 Doncaster council announced it had abandoned plans to turn Northcliffe School into an academy, a move welcomed by teachers, local parents' groups and the National Union of Teachers (The Guardian 14 October 2004).

The involvement of faith groups

There were concerns - not least among Labour MPs - that half of the academies were sponsored by faith groups. Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, commented:

Religious organisations can now have a say in selecting kids and controlling the religious curriculum. They are free to peddle whatever anti-science they like. They are also in a position to recruit and select teachers who share their views. What's even more disturbing is that the government is actively soliciting partnerships with such organisations (quoted in The Guardian 20 July 2004).
Selection by stealth

Like specialist schools, academies were allowed to select ten per cent of their pupils on the basis of aptitude. Some found ways to subvert this rule. One parent told The Guardian that 'the new academy is keeping to the letter of its policy by selecting on bands [levels of academic ability], but places are going to those at the top of each band' (quoted in The Guardian 20 July 2004).

Pupil exclusions

Academies could afford to expel difficult or disruptive pupils because they were exempt from the financial penalties which local authority schools incurred in doing so. In its first year, the King's Academy in Middlesbrough, another of Peter Vardy's schools, excluded 26 of its 1,034 pupils - ten times the national rate. A spokeswoman for the Emmanuel Schools Foundation said 'Everyone knows the rules. By breaking them children exclude themselves. They know what the consequences are' (The Guardian 24 July 2004).

Lack of LEA control and support

The breaking of the link between local education authorities and schools in their areas worried many. John Bangs, head of education for the National Union of Teachers, said

If LEAs have no control over the running of or selection for academies, they can't possibly plan to make adequate education provision across the rest of the sector. Regardless of the spin, the new academies in deprived areas are always likely to be fragile and in need of support. By cutting them off from the LEA, they are denying them access to the best help (quoted in The Guardian 20 July 2004).
Dubious use of public funds

In August 2004 it was revealed that two academies had paid large sums to organisations owned by their sponsors. The King's Academy in Middlesbrough was billed for 290,214 by organisations and individuals connected with its sponsor Peter Vardy, and the West London Academy in Ealing paid 180,964 to businesses and a charity with connections to its sponsor Alec Reed, chairman of Reed Executive. The payments were for marketing, recruitment, training and 'educational advice' (The Guardian 14 August 2004).

Teachers' pay and conditions

In November 2004 The Guardian reported that teachers in seven of the 17 existing academies were being made to sign 'gagging clauses'. Union officials said it was evidence that the schools were opting out of national pay and conditions agreements (The Guardian 1 November 2004).

A two-tier education system

In a confidential report commissioned by the government, PriceWaterhouseCoopers said the academies programme threatened to create a two-tier education system based on social class (The Guardian 19 February 2005).

Meanwhile, in the US, the charter schools, on which England's academies had been modelled, were also in difficulty. In August 2004 the American Federal Education Department reported that their performance was worse than that of publicly funded schools, and that they usually achieved poorer results than other schools serving similarly disadvantaged communities (The Guardian 17 August 2004).

The British government had no intention of backtracking on its academies programme, however, despite mounting evidence of problems.

In March 2005 league tables based on test results for 14-year-olds in English, maths and science showed that nine of the eleven academies came in the bottom 200 schools in England. At the Business Academy in Bexley, hailed by the Prime Minister as 'the future' of secondary education, the 14-year-old year group failed to meet the levels expected of 11-year-olds (The Guardian 17 March 2005).

Two months later Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough, sponsored by building firm Amey, failed its Ofsted inspection. The inspectors' report revealed a 'very low standard of attainment' and 'significant underachievement' among pupils, an 'unsatisfactory' level of teaching, poor staff morale and concerns about management. It noted that the academy's GCSE results were worse than at the two 'failing schools' it had replaced (The Guardian 19 May 2005).

The following week staff at Unity voted to strike over proposed job cuts and plans to make new teachers work early mornings, evenings and weekends (The Guardian 3 June 2005).

Curriculum and testing

Foreign languages

The strategy document, Languages for all: languages for life, published in 2002, was produced by the Languages National Steering Group, which had been set up in July 2001 to 'develop a strategy to change perceptions and raise awareness amongst young people and the wider public of language competence as a key contemporary life skill' (DfES 2002b:2).

The strategy was based on three key objectives:

a. To improve teaching and learning of languages, including delivering an entitlement to language learning for pupils at Key Stage 2, making the most of e-learning and ensuring that opportunity to learn languages has a key place in the transformed secondary school of the future.

b. To introduce a recognition system to complement existing qualification frameworks and give people credit for their language skills.

c. To increase the number of people studying languages in further and higher education and in work-based training by stimulating demand for language learning, developing Virtual Language Communities and encouraging employers to play their part in supporting language learning (DfES 2002b:5).

It stressed the need to address a number of problems, including the shortage of specialist language teachers, lack of access to support networks, and insufficient use of new technologies.

In September 2004, however, new arrangements for the Key Stage 4 (post-14) curriculum - to allow schools to develop a more personalised and flexible programme for pupils - led to a dramatic reduction in the number of pupils learning foreign languages.

National Literacy Strategy

Increasing concerns were expressed about the effectiveness of the National Literacy Strategy. Ministers announced that it would be reviewed, since it had failed to deliver any improvement in reading and writing scores for three consecutive years (The Guardian 9 January 2003).

Many - including some eminent writers - criticised the sterile nature of much of the Strategy. Writing in The Guardian (5 June 2003), award-winning author Philip Pullman described a task recently undertaken by 200,000 11-year-olds in their Key Stage 2 tests:

They were confronted with four crudely drawn pictures of a boy standing in a queue to buy a toy, and they then had to write a story about them, taking exactly 45 minutes. It was a task of stupefying worthlessness and futility, something no one who was serious about the art of storytelling could regard with anything other than contempt (Pullman 2003).
Bowing to pressure from the teacher unions and others, Charles Clarke announced that primary school tests and targets would be streamlined. The tests for 7-year-olds would be less formal and would form part of a wider teacher-led assessment (The Guardian 20 May 2003).

In December 2004 Ofsted published Reading for Purpose and Pleasure: An evaluation of reading in primary schools, which argued that:

The last few years have seen a marked improvement in the reading standards achieved by thousands of children across the country. That has been a genuine success story. However, the continuing variability in performance, highlighted by school data and the findings of this survey, raises significant questions about the need for an even more active intervention policy in those schools where standards are low and continue to remain low. It is unacceptable that too many children do not learn to read properly because the adults who teach them lack sufficient knowledge to do so effectively. This might have been understandable a decade ago, but not today (Ofsted 2004:5).
Much had been done to assist schools where reading standards were low, but further progress was needed:
as a matter of urgency, those with national and local responsibility for improving literacy need to identify those schools with the lowest standards in reading and expect them to prepare a bespoke plan of action. That should be coupled with the clear signal that continual underperformance in the reading standards achieved by pupils will no longer be acceptable (Ofsted 2004:5).
In a speech to mark World Book Day, Chief Inspector David Bell warned that children were being deprived of the opportunity to enjoy books because schools were obsessed with their position in league tables. 'Reading has always been seen as a source of considerable pleasure for many. This is important, but perhaps has been forgotten by some schools in their pursuit of higher tests results', he said (The Guardian 3 March 2005).

2003 Ofsted report: The education of six year olds in England, Denmark and Finland

In July 2003 Ofsted published a comparative study, The education of six year olds in England, Denmark and Finland, which described 'what England might learn, particularly in terms of the curriculum, teaching and learning, from Denmark and Finland' (Ofsted 2003b:43).

The report concluded that

In discussing provision for the youngest pupils in this country, there is frequently a tendency to polarise debate: for example, child-centred versus subject-centred learning; an early starting age versus later compulsory education. Such polarisation obscures the subtleties of the debate, as well as confusing teachers, early years practitioners and parents. This report uses international comparisons to contribute to discussion about how younger children in our primary schools might be educated. It does not take sides in a debate and certainly does not recommend a return to some mythical golden age of primary education (Ofsted 2003b:43).
Tests, targets and league tables

In February 2004 Chief Inspector David Bell warned the government that its enforced focus on maths and English in primary schools was creating a 'two-tier curriculum', with other subjects - particularly geography, history and religious education - being neglected. NUT General Secretary Doug McAvoy argued that these subjects were suffering as a result of 'the government's obsession with tests, targets and tables' (The Guardian 5 February 2004).

This 'obsession' applied only to England: Scotland had already abandoned tests in favour of teacher assessment and had no league tables; Northern Ireland was proposing to replace key stage assessments with annual reports; and Wales had abolished tests for 7-year-olds and school league tables in 2001. Now, Welsh education minister Jane Davidson announced that the tests for 11- and 14-year-olds were to be scrapped and replaced with a skills test for 10-year-olds, supported by teacher assessments (The Guardian 14 July 2004).

Schools in England, however, would have to go on testing children regularly because the government believed such tests were necessary to drive up standards. Teachers themselves were partly to blame for this situation: in December 2003 the National Union of Teachers had balloted its members on a boycott of the tests for 7- and 11-year-olds but the proposal was lost because only 34 per cent of the membership had bothered to vote (The Guardian 14 July 2004).

14-19 curriculum

In its report Entry to Leading Universities, published in May 2000, the Sutton Trust showed that the seven per cent of children who attended private schools took 39 per cent of the places at top universities, and that private school pupils were 25 times more likely to gain a place than those at state schools in poor areas.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, launched an outspoken attack on 'old school tie' elitism at Oxford and Cambridge (The Guardian 26 May 2000); and the higher education minister, Margaret Hodge (1944- ), admitted that New Labour had so far failed to widen access to higher education and that government targets must, in future, 'include a commitment to ensuring that proportionately more students came from low income group families' (The Guardian 24 June 2002).

Like Estelle Morris, however, Hodge denied that tuition fees were discouraging applications from students from poorer backgrounds. It was pointed out to her that Scotland, with no up-front tuition fees, had already achieved a participation rate of fifty per cent. She replied that making such a comparison was 'far too simplistic and misleading' (The Guardian 24 June 2002).

2002 Green Paper 14-19: extending opportunities, raising standards

In February 2002 Estelle Morris published the green paper 14-19: extending opportunities, raising standards, which set out her proposals, including 'a new structure for the National Curriculum at Key Stage 4' (DfES 2002a:20):

We believe there should be a core of compulsory subjects that are essential for progression and development beyond the end of compulsory schooling. All pupils should study mathematics, English, science and ICT, alongside citizenship, religious education, careers education, sex education, physical education (PE) and work-related learning.

We propose a new statutory entitlement of access to a subject within each of modern foreign languages, design and technology, the arts and the humanities.

We intend to develop more vocational qualifications and new hybrid qualifications that combine traditional general subjects with their vocational applications. We will ensure that new qualifications are robust and high-quality. We intend to call all GCSEs and A levels by a subject title, without any vocational label. We propose to enable the most able students to demonstrate a greater depth of understanding at advanced level through introducing more demanding questions into A2 papers, leading to a new distinction grade for the higher achievers. The new generation of Modern Apprenticeships will form an important part of a 14-19 vocational pathway (DfES 2002a:20).

There was criticism of the proposal to make foreign languages and design and technology optional at Key Stage 4. Although this would not come into effect until September 2004, hundreds of secondary schools were said to be preparing to drop these subjects as part of the compulsory curriculum as soon as possible. There were also concerns that most of the secondary schools planning to dispense with compulsory language lessons were in deprived inner-city areas (Chitty 2009a:186).

The Green Paper was followed by 'one of the most extensive consultation exercises ever mounted by the Education Department' (Chitty 2009a:187), which included 58 regional 14-19 workshops and resulted in thousands of written responses.

2002 Roberts Review: SET for success

In 2001 the government appointed the Welsh physicist Sir Gareth Roberts (1940-2007), President of Wolfson College Oxford, to lead an inquiry into The supply of people with science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills.

In his report, SET for success, presented to Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown in April 2002, Roberts noted that

Compared to other countries, the UK has a relatively large, and growing, number of students studying for scientific and technical qualifications. However, this growth is primarily due to increases in the numbers studying IT and the biological sciences, with the overall increase masking downward trends in the numbers studying mathematics, engineering and the physical sciences. For example, the number of entrants to chemistry degrees dropped by 16 per cent between 1995 and 2000 (Roberts 2002:2).
He identified a number of 'deep-seated issues', common to both school and further education, which needed to be addressed:
  • shortages in the supply of physical science and mathematics teachers/lecturers;
  • poor environments in which science, and design and technology practicals are taught;
  • the ability of these subjects' courses to inspire and interest pupils, particularly girls; and
  • other factors such as careers advice which affect pupils' desire to study science, technology, engineering or mathematics at higher levels (Roberts 2002:2).
His recommendations included:
  • greater participation of women and ethnic minority groups in science and engineering;
  • more subject-specific training for both primary and secondary teachers;
  • increased investment in school science laboratories;
  • the employment of more teaching assistants;
  • a more appealing science curriculum; and
  • closer cooperation between higher education institutions and industry (Roberts 2002:189-194).
2003 Green Paper 14-19: opportunity and excellence

The result of 'all this frenetic activity' (Chitty 2009a:188) was the publication in January 2003 of another consultation document, 14-19: opportunity and excellence, in which Morris's successor, Charles Clarke, set out his proposals.

In the revised Key Stage 4 curriculum,

  • English, mathematics and science would remain compulsory, and students would learn to be responsible and healthy adults;
  • Information and Communications Technology would remain compulsory, though it would increasingly be taught through other subjects;
  • all students would learn about work and enterprise;
  • all students would be entitled to study another language, a humanities subject (such as history), an arts subject, and design and technology.
Young people would also be entitled to study literacy, numeracy and computer skills until 19 to Level 2 standard (GCSE or equivalent); and schools and colleges would be encouraged to enter pupils for exams when they were ready.

The government also planned 'three reforms to address the weakness of vocational education' (DfES 2003b:7):

  • in addition to the eight vocational GCSE subjects, new 'hybrid' GCSEs would allow students to study on either academic or applied tracks, depending on their preference and aptitude;
  • Modern Apprenticeships would be improved and expanded; and
  • GCSEs or A Levels would not longer be described as 'vocational' or 'academic'. 'Status matters, and engineering should have equal status with mathematics or art and design' (DfES 2003b:7).
A new working group, to be chaired by former Chief Inspector Mike Tomlinson, would be appointed to 'examine how developments in vocational education, assessment and the qualifications framework could contribute to the successful and lasting transformation of 14-19 learning' (DfES 2003b:7).

In May 2004 Clarke announced an overhaul of the Modern Apprenticeships programme. There would be apprenticeships for 14- to 16-year-olds, with pupils spending up to two days a week in the workplace learning a trade. He rejected criticisms that this amounted to a reintroduction of selection and insisted that the new scheme would attract motivated and able pupils (The Guardian 11 May 2004).

2004 Smith Report: Making Mathematics Count

Following on from the Roberts Review, on 23 July 2002 the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Paul Boateng, announced the setting up of an independent inquiry into the teaching of maths and, in November, the statistician Professor Adrian Smith (1946- ), Principal of Queen Mary University of London, was appointed to chair the review.

His Terms of Reference were:

To make recommendations on changes to the curriculum, qualifications and pedagogy for those aged 14 and over in schools, colleges and higher education institutions to enable those students to acquire the mathematical knowledge and skills necessary to meet the requirements of employers and of further and higher education (Smith 2004:2).
Smith submitted his report, Making Mathematics Count, to Charles Clarke in February 2004. He began by pointing out that the Inquiry had been commissioned by the UK Government and that therefore,
much of our analysis and many of our recommendations refer more directly to England than to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. It is hoped, however, that many elements of this report will be useful to all the devolved administrations, as well as to the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) for England (Smith 2004:2)
The Inquiry identified three broad areas of 'considerable concern':
  • the shortage of specialist mathematics teachers;
  • the failure of the current curriculum and qualifications framework to meet the requirements of learners, higher education and employers, and to ensure that sufficient numbers of young people continue with mathematics post-16;
  • the need to support, sustain and enhance current teachers of mathematics through CPD [continuing professional development] and other teaching and learning resources (Smith 2004:9).
Its recommendations included:
  • the creation of a high level post in the DfES with dedicated subject specific responsibility for mathematics;
  • enhanced financial incentives for teachers of mathematics;
  • increased funding to further encourage the expansion of mathematics teacher training places;
  • consideration of the introduction of new mathematics teacher certification schemes which award certification to teach mathematics only up to certain specified levels, eg Key Stage 3;
  • moving Statistics and Data Handling from mathematics to other disciplines (eg biology or geography) to allow extra time for acquiring greater mastery of core mathematical concepts and operations;
  • better provision for mathematically-able students; and
  • the creation of a National Centre for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching, together with nine Regional Mathematics Centres (Smith 2004:4-9.
2004 Tomlinson Report

In their report, 14-19 Curriculum and Qualifications Reform, submitted to Charles Clarke on 18 October 2004, the Working Group for 14-19 Reform identified the following problems:

  • the low level of post-16 participation in education;
  • poor skill levels in 'functional mathematics, literacy and communication and ICT' (information and communications technology);
  • the low status of vocational courses and qualifications;
  • the lack of challenge, especially for 'top performers';
  • exam overload; and
  • the complexity and lack of transparency in the web of academic and vocational qualifications (Tomlinson 2004:4).
The report recommended:
  • introducing a compulsory 'core' consisting of 'functional' subjects (maths, ICT, and communication skills) (Tomlinson 2004:6), and 'wider activities' such as work experience, paid jobs, voluntary work and family responsibilities (Tomlinson 2004:39);
  • replacing coursework with a single extended project (Tomlinson 2004:6);
  • replacing GCSEs, A Levels and vocational qualifications with a new single modular diploma at four levels:
    • entry (equivalent to pre-GCSEs),
    • foundation (equivalent to GCSEs at grade D-G, foundation GNVQ, level 1 NVQ),
    • intermediate (equivalent to GCSE A*-C, intermediate GNVQ, level 2 NVQ), and
    • advanced (equivalent to GCE and VCE AS and A level, level 3 NVQ) (Tomlinson 2004:7);
  • cutting the number of exams (Tomlinson 2004:12);
  • stretching the most able students with tougher additional A Level papers (Tomlinson 2004:90); and
  • providing students with transcripts of their achievements (Tomlinson 2004:12).
The committee said many of its proposals would take at least a decade to implement fully, though some could be introduced more quickly (Tomlinson 2004:14).

Tomlinson's recommendations were supported by heads, by Chief Inspector David Bell and by the head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, Dr Ken Boston. Writing in The Guardian (21 February 2005), Barry Sheerman, chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, argued that the government's decision would be 'the most significant for education' during Tony Blair's premiership.

However, members of the business community argued that the cost and disruption of reform would outweigh any long-term benefits, and it was clear that Tony Blair was less than enthusiastic about the proposals.

Clarke presented the Tomlinson Report to the House of Commons on 18 October 2004. He began by thanking the working group and commending their report 'wholeheartedly'. He went on:

I am determined that any evolution of the system must increase public confidence in the system. My approach will therefore build on all that is good in the current system, including the real and great strengths of A-levels and GCSEs. The Tomlinson report rightly confirms the place in the system of A-levels and GCSEs, which it seeks to build on and which will stay as the building blocks of any new system (Hansard House of Commons 18 October 2004 Cols 644-645).
Tony Blair was not present for the debate, but at a meeting of the Confederation of British Industry in Birmingham that evening, he said:
The purpose of reform will be to improve upon the existing system, not replace it ... GCSEs and A Levels will stay, so will externally marked exams. Reform will serve to strengthen the existing system where it is inadequate, and there will be greater challenge at the top for those on track to Higher Education. There will also be a sharper focus on the basics of literacy and numeracy and ICT. And there will also be improved vocational provision (quoted in The Guardian 19 October 2004).
2005 White Paper 14-19 Education and Skills

In the event, the government rejected most of Tomlinson's recommendations and, in its White Paper 14-19 Education and Skills, published in February 2005, opted to introduce vocational diplomas but to keep the existing 'gold standard' GCSE and A Level exams.

Ruth Kelly, who had been education secretary for just two months, told the Commons:

There are some who argue that to transform opportunities for our children, we should scrap the current system of GCSEs and A-levels. I do not agree. We will not transform opportunities by abolishing what is good, what works and what is recognised by employers, universities, pupils and parents. We must build on what is good in the system, and reform and replace what is not working (Hansard House of Commons 23 February 2005 Col 311).
She went on:
In my reforms, there will be a relentless focus on the basics. It is totally unacceptable that at least 70,000 16-year-olds a year are weak in the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. I want and expect much more. I want every young person to be competent in English and maths before leaving school or college - to be able, for example, to work out their family budget or write a clear description for an insurance claim.

I am therefore toughening GCSE so that, in future, no one will be able to get a higher grade in English or maths without mastering the basics. I shall free up the curriculum - starting at age 11 - to make space for extra help and support in English and maths to ensure that children who fall behind can catch up. I shall introduce a new diploma to recognise the achievement of those who achieve five good GCSEs or equivalent, including English and maths (Hansard House of Commons 23 February 2005 Col 312).


The White Paper proposed:

  • a Key Stage 3 curriculum (for 11- to 14-year-olds) with 'a stronger base of knowledge and skills' (DfES 2005a:4);
  • a focus on 'functional skills in English and maths' in the 14-19 phase (DfES 2005a:5);
  • a system 'better tailored to the needs of the individual pupil, in which teenagers are stretched to achieve' (DfES 2005a:6);
  • a new system of 14 'specialised Diplomas' (DfES 2005a:6);
  • the maintenance of GCSEs and A levels, but with improvements 'in those areas where there is a strong case for change' (DfES 2005a:7); and
  • an 'accountability framework which supports and encourages the development of the new 14-19 phase' (DfES 2005a:8).
English and maths GCSEs would be 'restructured' to make it impossible to get a grade C or above 'without the ability to use functional English and maths' (DfES 2005a:7); GCSE coursework would be reduced and made more 'robust' (DfES 2005a:63); and there would be 'more stretch within A levels' so that 'scholarship can flourish' (DfES 2005a:63).


There was widespread dismay at the proposals, which Mike Tomlinson warned would reinforce the traditional snobbery towards work-related education:

What is being proposed risks emphasising yet again the distinction between the vocational and the academic. It further fails fully to deal with the needs of those students for whom grade A* to C at GCSE is simply not attainable ....

While the new White Paper leaves one or two doors still open - for example, a review of coursework - and introduces welcome new diplomas, I had hoped that the Government would have gone further on the need for a unified qualifications framework. This was a key part of the brief given to my Working Group, yet the white paper makes little or no direct reference to such a framework (quoted in The Guardian 24 February 2005).

Chief Inspector David Bell argued that:
Continuing with the current GCSE and A-level structure carries the risk of continuing the historic divide between academic and vocational courses which has ill-served too many young people in the past (quoted in The Guardian 24 February 2005).
John Dunford, General Secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:
The limited reforms announced today will do little for those who have hitherto been failed by the qualifications system. Electoral tactics, it seems, have taken precedence over educational logic (quoted in The Guardian 24 February 2005).
And writing in The Guardian (1 March 2005), Ann Hodgson and Ken Spours, of the London Institute of Education, argued that the White Paper
presented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a coherent and inclusive 14-19 phase for all learners, backed by the education profession as a whole. Unfortunately, it was an opportunity the government did not take (Hodgson and Spours 2005).
Instead, the White Paper was 'a dangerous step backwards' which 'could quite easily have been written by a Conservative government' (Hodgson and Spours 2005).

Many thought they could detect the hand of Andrew Adonis and the Number 10 Policy Unit behind the White Paper. When Kelly appeared before the Commons Education Select Committee (on 2 March 2005) to defend the White Paper, she was supported by Tory members and attacked by her Labour colleagues.

Child welfare: a holistic approach

Victoria Climbié, an 8-year-old West African girl, was repeatedly tortured and eventually murdered in February 2000 by her great aunt and the man with whom they lived. A government enquiry led by Lord Laming was highly critical of local social, health and education services in west London which, it said, had failed to coordinate their monitoring of the family.

It was largely in response to the Climbié case that, in June 2003, Tony Blair appointed Margaret Hodge as the first Minister for Children, Young People and Families, based in the Department for Education and Skills and with responsibility for all education and social services for children, families and young people.

2003 Green Paper Every Child Matters

In September 2003, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Paul Boateng, published the Green Paper Every Child Matters, which 'provoked a huge debate about how best to integrate children's services to ensure that no child ever again slipped through the net' (Chitty 2009a:220).

Every Child Matters set out policies to

reduce the number of children who experience educational failure, suffer ill health, become pregnant as teenagers, are the victims of abuse and neglect, or become involved in offending and anti-social behaviour (Treasury 2003:13).
It suggested that there was 'broad agreement that five key outcomes really matter for children and young people's well-being':
  • being healthy: enjoying good physical and mental health and living a healthy lifestyle;
  • staying safe: being protected from harm and neglect and growing up able to look after themselves;
  • enjoying and achieving: getting the most out of life and developing broad skills for adulthood;
  • making a positive contribution: to the community and to society and not engaging in anti-social or offending behaviour;
  • economic well-being: overcoming socio-economic disadvantages to achieve their full potential in life (Treasury 2003:14).

As recommended in Lord Laming's Report on the Victoria Climbié case, the Green Paper proposed that each local authority should be required to appoint a Director of Children's Services, who would be accountable 'for education and social services and for overseeing services for children delegated to the local authority by other services' (Treasury 2003:70).

There would be 'an integrated inspection framework for children's services', with Ofsted taking the lead in bringing together joint inspection teams to ensure that 'services are judged on how well they work together' (Treasury 2003:68).

2004 Children Act

The Green Paper's proposals formed the basis of the 2004 Children Act (15 November), which was in five parts:

Part 1 established the post of Children's Commissioner (Sections 1-9) to champion the views and interests of children and young people.

Part 2 required all agencies involved in children's welfare to cooperate (10-12); provided for the creation of Local Safeguarding Children Boards (13-16); required each local authority to make a Children and young people's plan (17), appoint a Director of children's services (18) and nominate a Lead member for children's services (19); and set out a new framework for the inspection of children's services (20-24).

Part 3 made similar arrangements for Wales (25-34).

Part 4 dealt with the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) in Wales (35-43).

Part 5 covered miscellaneous matters including private fostering, child-minding and day care.

Every Child Matters: change for children

To provide advice and support for those involved in implementing the Act, in December 2004 the government published Every Child Matters: change for children, which set out the radical changes needed across the whole system of children's services, including schools.

The Foreword to the document was signed by sixteen government ministers, including those responsible for education (Charles Clarke), health (John Reid), work and pensions (Alan Johnson), and children, young people and families (Margaret Hodge). It said:

Right across Government, with our different remits, we are all working together to improve the lives of children, young people and their families. We are determined to make a step-change in the quality, accessibility and coherence of services so that every child and young person is able to fulfil their full potential and those facing particular obstacles are supported to overcome them.

The Children Act 2004 provides the legislative foundation for whole-system reform to support this long-term and ambitious programme. It outlines new statutory duties and clarifies accountabilities for children's services. But legislation by itself is not enough: it needs to be part of a wider process of change. ...

The transformation that we need can only be delivered through local leaders working together in strong partnership with local communities on a programme of change. That is why this document sets out what action needs to be taken locally and how Government will work with and support Local Authorities and their partners.

In developing this programme over the past year we have worked closely together across Government and with our many key partners both nationally and locally. We want to maintain that process of dialogue as we implement our reforms and hope to see it reflected in local change programmes. We now need to translate our common vision and commitment to change into real delivery on the ground (HMG 2004:2).

Teachers' pay and conditions

Payment by results

In a letter to the School Teachers' Pay Review Body (STRB) on 1 August 2002, Estelle Morris proposed changes to the system of performance-related pay which had been introduced by David Blunkett two years earlier. She suggested linking teachers' pay to test results or pupils' behaviour; and using pay to tackle the shortage of maths and science teachers (The Guardian 2 August 2002).

A senior DfES official described the proposals as 'bold and radical'; but David Hart, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, commented:

This represents an extraordinary change of the goalposts on the government's part. These radical changes to a performance-related pay system that is still in its infancy, will be greeted with dismay by headteachers, unless the government addresses their concerns about the current system such as inadequate funding (quoted in The Guardian 2 August 2002).
And Doug McAvoy, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, warned that
The imposition of further half-baked performance pay measures and a new range of local discretions will not attract people into teaching or persuade teachers to stay (quoted in The Guardian 2 August 2002).
Workforce remodelling

September 2003 saw the introduction of the government's 1bn three-year 'workforce remodelling' scheme, which aimed to reduce teachers' workload by employing more classroom assistants.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) refused to cooperate, claiming that the initiative would result in larger classes and teaching by unqualified staff (The Guardian 28 October 2003). Charles Clarke was so angry that he refused to attend NUT conferences and banned DfES staff from negotiating with the union's representatives (The Guardian 15 April 2004).

In January 2004, Professor David Reynolds of Exeter University, a senior government adviser, questioned the wisdom of placing so much reliance on teaching assistants. He concluded that:

It would seem ill-advised to seek to solve teacher shortages by replacing them with an army of learning assistants unless entry qualifications, training and rewards for the latter are substantially improved (quoted in The Guardian 16 January 2004).
Two other teacher unions - the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) - later expressed anger over the workload agreement, claiming that heads were refusing to guarantee teachers time for planning and assessment (The Guardian 22, 30 March 2005); and at the National Association of Head Teachers annual conference in May 2005, schools minister Stephen Twigg was booed when he told delegates that no new money would be offered to cover the cost of giving teachers time for marking and preparation (The Guardian 2 May 2005).

Higher education

2003 White Paper The future of higher education

The White Paper The future of higher education, was finally published in January 2003, after

18 months of media speculation, four postponed launches and a number of well-informed 'leaked' stories about serious differences of opinion within Tony Blair's Cabinet (Chitty 2009a:206).
It declared that:
There is no easy, painless way to put our universities and student finance system on a sustainable basis. If we duck the difficult decisions needed, the risk of decline will increase and students and the country at large will suffer (DfES 2003a:5).
It proposed measures to:
  • Bring major improvements to the funding of research and knowledge transfer, boost world class excellence and strengthen the work of universities in supporting the regional economies;
  • Improve and reward excellent teaching;
  • Enable more people to enter higher education, benefiting both individuals and the economy's need for higher level skills;
  • Support those from disadvantaged backgrounds by restoring grants, helping with fee costs, and abolishing up-front tuition fees for all students. This will support our programme for increasing attainment and aspiration;
  • Allow universities to secure a contribution of between 0 and 3,000 per year to the cost of each course - paid fairly when graduates are in work linked to their ability to pay; and
  • Give universities long term financial certainty by helping them build up endowment funds (DfES 2003a:5).
In addition to the measures relating to funding and access, the White Paper contained far-reaching implications for the future structure of higher education in England, as Clyde Chitty noted:
The Government had been impressed by the achievements of universities in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and the USA where research was concentrated in relatively few institutions. Three-quarters of research funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England already went to just 25 institutions. Now it was being proposed that research money should be concentrated even more on 'top-performing' departments (Chitty 2009a:208).
However, it was the proposal to allow universities to charge students up to 3,000 a year that attracted most criticism. It was in breach of Labour's manifesto commitment, and around 150 Labour MPs signed motions opposing it.

2003 Green Paper Widening participation in higher education

Following on from the White Paper, in April 2003 the DfES published Widening participation in higher education, a Green Paper which set out proposals for the creation and remit of the Office for Fair Access, whose main role would be

to exercise judgements in ensuring that universities are taking the actions they see as necessary to achieve their widening participation ambitions if they introduce variable tuition fees (DfES 2003c:21).
2004 Higher Education Act

The Higher Education Bill passed its second reading on 27 January 2004 by just five votes: 72 Labour MPs rebelled and a further 19 abstained - the largest revolt on a three-line whip in more than fifty years. At the third reading, on 31 March, an attempt to overturn the clauses relating to top-up fees was defeated by 28 votes:

victory for the Government was secured, somewhat ironically, by the support of 43 Scottish Labour MPs who stayed loyal on a bill that would not affect their own voters (Chitty 2009a:209).
Based on the 2003 White and Green Papers, the 2004 Higher Education Act (1 July) was in five parts:
1 Research in arts and humanities
2 Review of student complaints
3 Student fees and fair access
4 Student support
5 Miscellaneous and general.
Part 3 set out the regulations governing the charging of fees, and provided for a Director of Fair Access to Higher Education (section 31) who would be appointed by the Secretary of State to oversee the operation of the system.

Other developments 2001-2005

Lifelong learning

Despite the various initiatives overseen by David Blunkett, the provision of adult education and lifelong learning under the first New Labour administration had 'not been one of undiluted success' (Chitty 2009a:230).

In October 2001, Estelle Morris announced that Individual Learning Accounts were to be suspended as a result of growing concerns about fraud: 300 providers were being investigated by the police (Chitty 2009a:230).

Eighteen months later, figures published in The Observer (8 June 2003) showed that, between 1998 and 2002, 663m had been spent on adult education and skills initiatives, but the number of people enrolling on adult education courses had fallen from 1,115,000 to 1,042,000. There had also been a decline in the number of adult males undertaking Modern Apprenticeships - from 188,300 to 151,400 (Chitty 2009a:230).

In the face of these setbacks, in July 2003 the DfES (and three other government departments) published a policy paper 21st Century Skills: Realising Our Potential, which effectively relaunched the government's national Skills Strategy, the aim of which was to

ensure that employers have the right skills to support the success of their businesses, and individuals have the skills they need to be both employable and personally fulfilled (DfES 2003d:11).
Employers would be given 'greater choice and control over the publicly-funded training they receive', and individuals who did not have basic employability skills would be guaranteed free tuition (DfES 2003d:13).

The qualifications framework would be reformed to make it 'more flexible and responsive to the needs of employers and learners' (DfES 2003d:14); Modern Apprenticeships would be strengthened and extended; and the funding arrangements for adult learning and skills would be reformed 'to give training providers stronger incentives to work with employers while reducing bureaucracy' (DfES 2003d:14).

To ensure that government and 'delivery agencies' worked together efficiently, a national Skills Alliance would be formed,

bringing together the key Government departments with employer and union representatives as a new social partnership, and linking the key delivery agencies in a concerted drive to raise skills (DfES 2003d:15).
Building Schools for the Future

In February 2004 Tony Blair and school standards minister David Miliband launched Building Schools for the Future, which The Guardian (13 February 2004) described as a 'the biggest and most ambitious school rebuilding programme since Victorian times'.

Every secondary school in England was to be rebuilt or refurbished within 15 years, and there would be additional spending on primary schools. The programme would be financed partly from public funds and partly using the controversial private finance initiative (PFI).

Speaking at the opening of the Capital City Academy in Brent, north London, the Prime Minister described Building Schools for the Future as 'a massive investment in our nation's future'. It would be 'the greatest school renewal programme in British history, reversing a generation of under-investment in our schools', he said (quoted in The Guardian 13 February 2004).

The budget for the first year of the scheme was set at 5bn, of which the government had already earmarked 2bn for 180 schools in Bradford, Bristol, Knowsley, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Newham, Sheffield, Solihull, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland, Waltham Forest, Gateshead and South Tyneside, and Southwark, Greenwich and Lewisham.

Eleven leading architects had contributed ideas for new school buildings, which would incorporate computer technology.

PFI projects had been launched by John Major's government in 1992. Under New Labour, they formed part of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), which embraced 'a wide range of possible contractual and collaborative relationships between public authorities and private sector companies' (Chitty 2013:119).

They were 'enormously attractive to the construction industry' (Chitty 2013:120) but were heavily criticised for being more expensive than publicly funded projects of a similar nature:

it cost local education authorities more to negotiate with private contractors than to make use of loans from the government. On top of the normal costs, there were the fees for consultants and the profit taken by the PFI companies themselves (Chitty 2013:120).

The Independent (29 July 2003) reported that the government had abandoned a 59m behaviour management training programme for newly-qualified teachers because it needed the money to avoid teacher redundancies caused by a shortfall in school budgets.

However, concerns continued to be expressed - by David Bell among others - that too many children were starting school lacking even the most basic social and communication skills. As a result, in September 2003 the minister for young people, Ivan Lewis, announced a 5m pilot programme in 3,500 primary schools to tackle bullying and disruptive behaviour in children as young as five (The Guardian 4 September 2003).


In 2003 Ofsted published Bullying: effective action in secondary schools, a survey based on visits by inspectors to local education authorities and schools in 2001-2. It focused on 'strategies to reduce incidents of bullying, to support victims and to deal with perpetrators' (Ofsted 2003a:1).

The report recommended that schools, supported by local education authorities, should:

  • maintain the momentum on action against bullying through initiatives to improve attitudes and behaviour in schools generally
  • regularly collect and analyse information on the incidence of bullying, taking full account of pupils' views
  • arrange systematic training for staff on managing behaviour, counselling pupils and working with parents in difficult situations
  • ensure that training to help teachers identify and deal with bullying tackles cases where bullying focuses on race and sexuality
  • check that follow-up action on confirmed allegations of bullying is appropriate in its range and is sustained
  • consider the use of positive peer pressure, the involvement of pupils in befriending and mentoring schemes, and the support of outside agencies
  • use other professionals to work alongside teachers, pupils and parents in overcoming the extreme effects of bullying (Ofsted 2003a:3).
Repeal of Section 28

As noted in chapter 15, Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act (which had originally been Section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986) had made it illegal for a local authority to 'promote' homosexuality or to 'promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship'.

The provision was seen by many as intentionally offensive, and Labour had promised to repeal it.

Clyde Chitty has argued that

It is clearly not the role of classroom teachers to 'promote' homosexuality, or indeed any form of sexual orientation. The idea that certain gay and lesbian teachers are seriously concerned to put across the notion that homosexuality or bisexuality are somehow 'superior' forms of sexual orientation has always been a myth perpetuated by certain Conservative politicians and a number of right-wing national newspapers. What teachers would like to feel free to 'promote', without fear of being disciplined, is the acceptability rather than the superiority of the homosexual lifestyle, although the use of the term 'lifestyle' in this context is somewhat problematic, carrying with it subtle implications of something 'chosen', like a fashion accessory (Chitty 2009a:241).
Or, as The Observer commented in an editorial:
Teachers have no wish to be in the business of 'promoting' any kind of sexuality, or family structure, over another. Section 28 was never about 'promotion' in this sense - it was all about stopping teachers from even talking about same-sex relationships as real, and serious, parts of the adult world for which children were being prepared. The main reason for ditching Section 28 as soon as possible is to allow children to be taught about the real world, a world in which moral values such as commitment, fidelity, care and responsibility are more important than ever but are not attached exclusively to the marriage contract (The Observer 30 January 2000)
The DfEE Circular Sex and Relationship Education Guidance (details above), published in July 2000, made it clear that school sex education programmes should be relevant to all students, whatever their sexual orientation:
It is up to schools to make sure that the needs of all pupils are met in their programmes. Young people, whatever their developing sexuality, need to feel that sex and relationship education is relevant to them and sensitive to their needs. The Secretary of State for Education and Employment is clear that teachers should be able to deal honestly and sensitively with sexual orientation, answer appropriate questions and offer support. There should be no direct promotion of sexual orientation (DfEE 2000:12-13).
Section 28 was repealed in Scotland in 2000 by the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act, one of the first Acts passed by the new Scottish Parliament.

An attempt to repeal it in England was made in the 2000 Local Government Act but was defeated in the Lords.

It was finally repealed by the 2003 Local Government Act (18 September), Section 122 of which Repeal of prohibition on promotion of homosexuality said simply:

Section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986 (c.10) (local authorities prohibited from promoting homosexuality) ceases to have effect.
No one had ever been prosecuted under Section 28, and it did not apply directly to schools, but it had left teachers confused about what they could say and do, especially when faced with cases of homophobic bullying. A Stonewall survey had found that 82 per cent of secondary teachers were aware of such incidents (The Guardian 17 November 2003).

2005 Education Act

The 2005 Education Act (7 April) was relatively uncontroversial. It made provisions regarding:

Part 1 School inspections and other inspections by school inspectors
Part 2 School organisation
Part 3 Training the school workforce

Parts 4 and 5 miscellaneous and general matters.

Section 74 of the Act provided for the Teacher Training Agency, which had been established by the 1994 Education Act, to be renamed the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA).

Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners

The Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners (effectively a Green Paper), published in July 2004, set out the agenda for a third-term New Labour government.


The Strategy was based on 'five key principles of reform':

  • Greater personalisation and choice, with the wishes and needs of children, parents and learners centre-stage;
  • Opening up services to new and different providers and ways of delivering services;
  • Freedom and independence for frontline headteachers, governors and managers with clear simple accountabilities and more secure streamlined funding arrangements;
  • A major commitment to staff development with high quality support and training to improve assessment, care and teaching; and
  • Partnerships with parents, employers, volunteers and voluntary organisations to maximise the life chances of children, young people and adults (DfES 2004:7).

Among its proposals were:

  • a significant expansion in early years education and childcare services;
  • in primary schools, 'high-quality teachers and support staff in the classroom giving children more tailored learning' (DfES 2004:7);
  • allowing all secondary schools to become specialist schools - 'the development of independent specialist schools in place of the traditional comprehensive' (DfES 2004:8) - all secondary schools would 'own their land and buildings, manage their assets, employ their staff, improve their governing bodies, and establish or join charitable foundations to engage with outside partners' (DfES 2004:48);
  • the creation of 200 academies by 2010;
  • enabling successful schools to expand the number of places they offered and to 'establish and manage entirely new schools and federations' (DfES 2004:8);
  • a new inspection regime with 'shorter, more frequent, short-notice inspections' focusing on 'the fundamentals of effective schooling' (DfES 2004:50); and
  • the rebuilding or refurbishment of every secondary school under the Building Schools for the Future programme.
Despite its emphasis on modernisation, the Strategy promoted some very traditional ideas, designed to dissuade middle-class parents from taking their children out of the state sector. These included school uniforms (DfES 2004:62), and a 'house system' (DfES 2004:60) as used in independent schools.


For The Guardian (9 July 2004), the Strategy sounded 'the death knell of the old comprehensive system', though Charles Clarke himself admitted that it was difficult to see how a system of funding 26,000 schools directly from Whitehall could be made to work (The Guardian 8 July 2004).

National Union of Teachers General Secretary Steve Sinnott warned that

parents will be faced with a confused and confusing array of schools rather than choice and diversity. Parents will not have the power to choose. Instead, that power will lie in the hands of the governing body and the head teacher - leading to selection by stealth and increased frustration and disappointment for parents (quoted in The Guardian 8 July 2004).
Teacher unions and grassroots Labour supporters were appalled at the proposals and demanded a manifesto pledge to scrap grammar schools and end selection by aptitude (The Observer 11 July 2004).

Scotland's National Debate

National Priorities in Education

The 2000 Standards in Scotland's Schools etc. Act had provided for a set of National Priorities in Education as a framework for schools and education authorities to plan education for their pupils. The priorities were:

  • Achievement and Attainment: to raise standards of educational attainment for all in schools, especially in the core skills of literacy and numeracy, and to achieve better levels in national measures of achievement including examination results;
  • Framework for Learning: to support and develop the skills of teachers, the self discipline of pupils and to enhance school environments so that they are conducive to teaching and learning;
  • Inclusion and Equality: to promote equality and help every pupil benefit from education, with particular regard paid to pupils with disabilities and special educational needs, and to Gaelic and other lesser used languages;
  • Values and Citizenship: to work with parents to teach pupils respect for themselves and for one another and their interdependence with other members of their neighbourhood and society, and to teach them the duties and responsibilities of citizenship in a democratic society; and
  • Learning for Life: to equip pupils with the foundation skills, attitudes and expectations necessary to prosper in a changing society and to encourage creativity and ambition.

In 2002 the Scottish Executive initiated a National Debate on Education - 'the most extensive consultation ever of the people of Scotland on the state of school education' (Scottish Executive 2004a:6).

The following documents were published as part of that debate.

Educating for Excellence: Choice and Opportunity

Educating for Excellence: Choice and Opportunity, published in January 2003, was the Scottish Executive's response to the first round of the debate.

In her Foreword, Cathy Jamieson, Minister for Education and Young People, noted that there was 'broad consensus among teachers, parents and young people about the priorities for improvement' (Scottish Executive 2003:2). The government would act on these priorities to:

  • ensure that every pupil's learning needs are met;
  • increase involvement of parents in their children's education;
  • reduce curriculum overload and create more local flexibility and choice;
  • reduce the amount of time taken up by tests and exams;
  • give headteachers more control over the running of their schools; and
  • create bright, modern places to learn (Scottish Executive 2003:2).
Assessment, Testing and Reporting 3-14

Commissioned by the Scottish Executive Education Department, Dr Effie Maclellan's final report of the Consultation on Partnership Commitments, Assessment, Testing and Reporting 3-14, was published in March 2004.

The aim of the partnership commitments was to:

  • provide more time for learning by simplifying and reducing assessment, ending the current system of National Tests for 5-14 year olds;
  • promote assessment methods that support learning and teaching
  • measure improvement in overall attainment through broad surveys rather than relying on the National Tests;
  • improve the transitions between nursery and primary and primary and secondary education so that the system fits the needs of the children
  • promote improved assessment of individual schools' progress as a better measure than national 'league tables'; and
  • strengthen the link between parents and schools through improving the quality of information that parents receive about their children's progress, and replacing reports with Annual Progress Plans (Maclellan 2004:25).
More than a thousand people responded to the consultation questionnaire. Three-quarters of these were professional school staff; the remainder comprised parents, local authority officers and persons from other educational organisations. They were asked:
  • whether reports should be replaced by Annual Progress Plans - opinions on this were 'almost evenly divided' (Maclellan 2004:25);
  • whether the existing National Tests should be replaced by a National Assessment Bank - 80 per cent wanted the provision of National Test materials to continue. 'Opposition to National Testing regimes was explicit' (Maclellan 2004:25); and
  • whether it would be better to measure improvement in overall attainment through a Scottish Survey of Achievement, rather than relying on the Annual 5-14 Survey - two-thirds agreed (Maclellan 2004:25).
A curriculum for excellence

In November 2003 a Curriculum Review Group was appointed

to identify the purposes of education 3 to 18 and principles for the design of the curriculum. The Group was asked to take account of the views expressed during the National Debate, current research and international comparisons (Scottish Executive 2004a:7).
The result was A curriculum for excellence, published in November 2004, which began by noting that
The curriculum in Scotland has many strengths. Its well-respected curriculum for 3 to 5 year olds, its broad 5-14 curriculum, Standard Grade courses and the National Qualifications structure have been carefully designed to meet the needs of pupils at different stages (Scottish Executive 2004a:3).
the various parts were developed separately and, taken together, they do not now provide the best basis for an excellent education for every child. The National Debate showed that people want a curriculum that will fully prepare today's children for adult life in the 21st century, be less crowded and better connected, and offer more choice and enjoyment (Scottish Executive 2004a:3).
The Review Group argued that the curriculum should:
  • make learning active, challenging and enjoyable;
  • not be too fragmented or over-crowded with content;
  • connect the various stages of learning from 3 to 18;
  • encourage the development of high levels of accomplishment and intellectual skill;
  • include a wide range of experiences and achieve a suitable blend of what has traditionally been seen as 'academic' and 'vocational';
  • give opportunities for children to make appropriate choices to meet their individual interests and needs, while ensuring that these choices lead to successful outcomes; and
  • ensure that assessment supports learning (Scottish Executive 2004a:10).
They stressed that it was
one of the prime purposes of education to make our young people aware of the values on which Scottish society is based and so help them to establish their own stances on matters of social justice and personal and collective responsibility (Scottish Executive 2004a:11).
To achieve this, the curriculum
  • should enable all young people to benefit from their education, supporting them in different ways to achieve their potential;
  • must value the learning and achievements of all young people and promote high aspirations and ambition:
  • should emphasise the rights and responsibilities of individuals and nations. It should help young people to understand diverse cultures and beliefs and support them in developing concern, tolerance, care and respect for themselves and others;
  • must enable young people to build up a strong foundation of knowledge and understanding and promote a commitment to considered judgement and ethical action; and
  • should give young people the confidence, attributes and capabilities to make valuable contributions to society (Scottish Executive 2004a:11).
Ambitious, excellent schools

Ambitious, excellent schools, published by the Scottish Executive in November 2004, was effectively Scotland's version of England's Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners.

Its tone, however, was very different. The Five Year Strategy focused on problems: the words 'failing' or failure' appeared 39 times in its 113 pages; whereas Ambitious, excellent schools was overwhelmingly positive: its 25 pages contained no mention of failure. Where the Five Year Strategy dismissed England's comprehensive schools in favour of 'independent specialist schools', Ambitious, excellent schools celebrated Scotland's comprehensive schools.

In their Foreword, Peter Peacock, Minister for Education and Young People, and his deputy, Euan Robson, wrote:

Our comprehensive education system is right for Scotland and it performs in the top class on the world stage. The comprehensive schools we want to see are rich, colourful and diverse, offering choice for pupils and with ambition for themselves and for each and every one of their pupils. No one in Scotland should be required to select a school to get the first rate education they deserve and are entitled to. Choice between schools in Scotland is no substitute for the universal excellence we seek and Scotland's communities demand (Scottish Executive 2004b:2).
Ambitious, Excellent Schools set out 'the most comprehensive programme of modernisation for a generation or more' (Scottish Executive 2004b:3).

The agenda for action would involve:

  • heightened expectations, stronger leadership and ambition;
  • greater choice and opportunity for pupils;
  • better support for learning; and
  • tougher, intelligent accountabilities (Scottish Executive 2004b:4).
There would also be more freedom for teachers and schools, because
The people best placed to make judgements about the learning needs of individual young people are those who work with them most closely. Within a framework of clear national standards and local authority support, teachers and other professionals in schools must have the freedom to exercise their professional judgement to deliver excellent learning and teaching. We will act to give them that freedom (Scottish Executive 2004b:5).

CESC Report: Secondary Education

Two months before the forthcoming general election, the Labour-dominated Commons Education Select Committee, chaired by Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman, expressed 'serious reservations' (CESC 2005:4) about a number of the policies set out in the Five Year Strategy in its report on Secondary Education, published on 17 March 2005.

Of the government's intention to make schools independent of local authorities, the Committee commented:

Despite Mr Clarke's best efforts, we find it difficult to detect a coherent overarching strategy in the Government's proposals. The evidence provided to show that the large sums of money to be spent on the new arrangements will produce significant educational benefits is minimal. Whilst the Strategy offers some welcome changes, it also contains much that has not been properly thought through. Furthermore, it brings to light a number of policy tensions and contradictions. By making schools more independent, the Government reduces its ability to influence them directly itself, or through the diminished role of Local Authorities. This threatens the success of wider policy agendas such as the 'Every Child Matters' reforms of children's services or the review of 14-19 education, which depend vitally on the participation of schools. We also note that despite the Government's wish to devolve powers to schools and to make them more independent, it is nevertheless willing to pronounce on matters such as school uniform and the use of the house system, which are more properly the domain of headteachers and school managers. In contrast, the proposals of the Five Year Strategy inject a significant degree of independence into the secondary system, meaning that the Government will not be able to ensure that its aims for education are met or that Parliament's intentions are acted upon (CESC 2005:49).
The Select Committee was also critical of the academies programme. It noted that those already open had cost an average 25m each to set up, and that the government had announced plans for a total of 200 academies. The Committee commented:
If future Academies attract a similar level of funding to those so far agreed (and we see no reason why this should not be the case) the total capital cost of the programme would be nearly 5 billion - a significant sum (CESC 2005:13).
Among the Committee's other concerns were that 'the programme has been expanded without proper evidence to show that the current Academies are working well' (CESC 2005:14); and that some academies 'seem not to have produced improved results compared to the school that was previously on their site ... in some cases, the percentage achieving 5 A*-C grades has actually declined' (CESC 2005:15).

Meanwhile, the largest teacher unions - the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) - united to fight the academies programme. NUT members voted unanimously for a nationally coordinated campaign involving staff, parents and students; and NASUWT President Peter McLoughlin described the programme as 'slavish adherence to ideology' and 'privatisation by stealth' (The Guardian 29 March 2005).

Third term: 2005-2007

2005 general election

Labour manifesto

The 2005 Labour manifesto Britain forward not back declared that:

Education is still our number one priority. In our first term, we transformed recruitment, training and methods of teaching, with record results in primary schools. In our second term we have driven fundamental reform in secondary provision - more teachers and support staff, more money, specialist schools and the Academies programmes. Our plan now is to tailor our education system to individual pupil needs, with parents supporting teachers and support staff in further raising standards.That means music, art, sport and languages as well as English and maths in primary school; a good secondary school for every child, with modern buildings and excellent specialist teaching; catch-up support for all children who need it; the guarantee of a sixth-form place, apprenticeship or further education at 16; sufficient quality and quantity in higher education. At each stage we send a clear message - every child has a right to a good education, but no child has the right to disrupt the education of other children (Labour Party 2005:31).
Conservative manifesto

The 2005 Conservative manifesto, It's time for action, was criticised for its negative tone on immigration and its focus on indiscipline in schools. At its launch, party leader Michael Howard said it made five promises: 'More police, cleaner hospitals, lower taxes, school discipline and controlled immigration'. Reporters suggested to him that his list sounded 'more like a list of grievances than a programme for government' (The Guardian 11 Apr 2005).

The manifesto promised an extra 15b a year for schools by 2009-10 (Conservative Party 2005:7), but said that, even more important than the extra money, was the need to 'get the fundamentals right':

Classrooms need to be disciplined environments where children can learn. Teachers must be free to follow their vocation and inspire young minds. Standards must be maintained so that pupils, colleges and employers have examinations they can trust. Our education system should encourage excellence and ambition.

Today, these basics have been completely neglected (Conservative Party 2005:7).

The examination system would be made 'more transparent and accountable' by abolishing 'the targets which encourage examiners to award higher and higher grades for the same level of performance' (Conservative Party 2005:7); and parents would be able to 'send their children free of charge to any independent school that offers a place at no more than the cost of a state-funded school' (Conservative Party 2005:9).

The Tories' claim that the 'basics' - standards and discipline - had been 'completely neglected' was, to say the least, unfair. The 2005 British Crime Survey, for example, showed that the rate of violence against teachers had fallen by more than 40 per cent in the previous eight years; while a study by Cambridge Assessment found that literacy levels were higher than at any time in the previous fifteen years (The Observer 20 November 2005).

A historic third term

New Labour won a historic third term in office at the general election in May 2005, though with a much reduced majority in the Commons. For the first time ever in a British election, the winning party gained fewer votes than the number of people who did not bother to vote, leading Tony Blair to complain about public apathy.

Others, however, felt that it had not been apathy that had kept people away from the polling booths, but a combination of disgust at the Prime Minister's decision to involve Britain in President Bush's Iraq war and the blatant lies which had been used to justify doing so; lack of enthusiasm for a Tory opposition which had run a negative campaign focused on immigration, with its distasteful 'Are you thinking what we're thinking?' catchphrase; and the fact that, in terms of policies, there was little to choose between New Labour and the Conservatives.

There was a public outcry when Blair proposed making Andrew Adonis a minister. Adonis had never been elected to Parliament, had no ministerial experience, and was widely seen as one of 'Tony's cronies'. Blair ignored the concerns and gave Adonis a life peerage and the post of junior education minister.

Writing in The Guardian (25 October 2005), Patrick Wintour argued that Blair's overall aim for his third term as Prime Minister was that

the state should no longer be primarily a direct provider of services, but instead become a regulator and commissioner of services purchased from public, private and voluntary sectors. In one shape or other, markets are being introduced into the public sector - 'contestability', in the jargon - in which providers compete not necessarily over price, but quality (Wintour 2005).

The schools

2005 White Paper Higher Standards, Better Schools for All

The White Paper Higher Standards, Better Schools for All, subtitled More choice for parents and pupils, was published in October 2005.


It proposed a 'radical new school system' in which all primary and secondary schools would be encouraged to become independent state schools ('Self-governing Trust schools') backed by private sponsors - 'charities, faith groups, parents and community groups' (DfES 2005b:20). Like the academies, they would determine their own curriculum and ethos, appoint the governing body, control their own assets, employ their own staff and set their own admissions policy (DfES 2005b:25-26). Trust schools would be required to set up Parents' Councils, which would 'influence school decisions on issues such as school meals, uniform and discipline' (DfES 2005b:9).

Academies would 'remain at the heart of the programme, with continued and new opportunities to develop them in schools and areas of real and historical underperformance and underachievement'; independent schools would 'find it easier to enter the new system'; and a national Schools Commissioner would 'drive change, matching schools and new partners, promoting the benefits of choice, access and diversity, and taking action where parental choices are being frustrated' (DfES 2005b:8).

Parents and pupils would be 'fully engaged in improving standards' and education would be 'tailored to the individual' (DfES 2005b:9).

There would be 'much tougher rules for failing schools':

  • schools in Special Measures will be more quickly turned around; and where no progress is made after a year, a competition for new providers will be held. Schools that receive a notice to improve from Ofsted will enter Special Measures within a year, if progress is not made;
  • competitions will be required for new schools and the replacement of failing schools, for the first time providing a straightforward route to bring new providers into the system. All new schools will be self-governing Foundation, voluntary aided, Trust schools or Academies; and
  • parents will be able to urge Ofsted action or request new providers, and where there is strong demand or dissatisfaction with existing choices, local authorities will have to respond to their concerns (DfES 2005b:10).
The role of the local authority would change 'from provider to commissioner': local authorities would be expected to become 'the champions of pupils and parents, commissioning rather than providing education'; they would be required 'to promote choice, diversity and fair access to school places and school transport' and would be given 'new powers to act decisively where schools are failing and underperforming' (DfES 2005b:11).

In addition,

  • good schools would be encouraged to expand or link up with neighbouring schools in federations, and successful schools would be able to apply for new responsibilities such as teacher training (DfES 2005b:10);
  • teachers would be given the legal right to discipline pupils (DfES 2005b:11);
  • parenting contracts and orders would be extended and parents who failed to fulfil their contractual duties would face fines (DfES 2005b:11);
  • schools would be encouraged to tailor lessons to individual pupils and there would be more support for struggling pupils (DfES 2005b:55); and
  • pupils from low income families would get subsidised transport to any of the nearest three schools within a six-mile radius (DfES 2005b:45).

The White Paper caused immediate controversy. Many suspected that it was largely the work of Andrew Adonis. Writing in The Guardian (28 October), Will Woodward suggested that 'The first half - promoting private intervention, looking to all but abolish local authority involvement in state schools - reads as almost unadulterated Adonis' (Woodward 2005).

Tony Blair faced a cabinet revolt over the White Paper: Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott argued that it would condemn a generation of poorer children to ghettos of collapsing schools, and education secretary Ruth Kelly warned that the proposal to create trust schools was ill-thought through. The rebels were overruled and Kelly was warned by colleagues that if she did not support the proposals, her ministerial career would be a short one (Daily Mail 17 October 2005, The Observer 23 October 2005).

Writing in The Guardian (22 November 2005), former education secretary Estelle Morris described the White Paper as 'one of the most contradictory documents ever produced by government'.

More than a hundred Labour MPs threatened to rebel. Their main concern centred around the issue of selection. Blair pointed out that selection on grounds of ability had been illegal in new schools since 1998. Critics, however, argued that this still left a large - and probably increasing - role for covert selection, and that the White Paper's proposal to take many more schools out of local authority control and give them greater autonomy in determining their own admission arrangements would make the situation worse. The proposed Code of Admissions, they noted, would not have statutory force (The Guardian 1 December 2005).

In mid December, a group of 58 Labour backbenchers - including nine former ministers - published an Alternative White Paper. Its backers said the plans for trust schools were likely to 'strengthen rather than break' the link between being poor and underachieving in education (The Guardian 15 December 2005); and they were concerned to maintain the strategic role of local authorities. The Alternative White Paper said:

if every school becomes its own admissions authority, it will become extremely difficult, if not impossible, for local authorities to coordinate the admissions process, ensure all admissions authorities comply with the codes of practice, ensure that all children are allocated a place in a local school and predict and prepare for future requirements for school places. It is most unlikely that any school will, under this arrangement, voluntarily amend its admissions policy to include more difficult children (quoted in The Guardian 15 December 2005).
Kelly's disingenuous response was that trust schools were not 'a new category of school' and would be no more independent from local authorities than existing foundation schools (The Guardian 20 December 2005). She repeated this argument in her speech to local government officials and councillors at the North of England education conference in Newcastle in January 2006, and was given an extremely hostile reception (The Guardian 7 January 2006).

By mid January, more than half of Labour backbenchers had signed up to the Alternative White Paper (The Guardian 18 January 2006). Kelly made matters worse by telling them they 'didn't understand' the government's plans (The Guardian 21 January 2006).

Relations deteriorated even further when it was revealed that the DfES had suppressed a crucial report for the Commons Education Select Committee, which warned that the government's proposals would widen the educational gulf between rich and poor children (The Observer 22 January 2006).

Meanwhile, the Sutton Trust published new research showing that top-performing comprehensives which controlled their own admissions were already excluding poorer pupils. The DfES dismissed the research as 'crude and simplistic' (The Guardian 24 January 2006).

The Education and Inspections Bill

As the first reading of the Education and Inspections Bill drew nearer, attempts were made to find compromises, especially on the issues of admissions and the role of local authorities. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott attempted to salvage the situation: 'My ideas have developed about how we can take forward the traditional values of comprehensive education in a modern setting', he said (The Guardian 4 February 2006).

A few minor concessions were set out in a letter from Ruth Kelly to Barry Sheerman, chair of the Commons Education Select Committee:

  • parts of the school admissions code would be made mandatory;
  • schools would be banned from interviewing prospective parents;
  • local authorities would be allowed to set up community schools; and
  • the assets of a trust school would revert to the local authority in the event of the school closing (The Guardian 7 February 2006).
But no major changes to the bill were offered (The Guardian 9 February 2006) and Kelly insisted she would retain her right to prevent local authorities opening new comprehensive schools (The Guardian 27 February 2006).

Many backbenchers deeply disapproved of the mass handover of publicly owned, democratically accountable schools to unelected private bodies. The bill, they argued, represented 'the first irreversible step towards the privatisation of the state schools system' (The Guardian 20 February 2006).

The second reading of the Education and Inspections Bill took place on 15 March 2006. It achieved a majority of 343, but only because it was supported by Conservative MPs: 52 Labour MPs voted against it and a handful abstained (The Guardian 16 March 2006).

During the third reading, in May 2006, 67 backbenchers voted for a rebel amendment which would have required schools to hold parents' ballots before they became independent trusts (The Guardian 24 May 2006).

With Tory support, the bill was passed by 422 to 98 votes. It was, however, the largest rebellion ever suffered by a Labour government at a third reading (The Guardian 25 May 2006).

2006 Education and Inspections Act

The 2006 Education and Inspections Act (8 November) was in ten parts. Much of it consisted of amendments to previous Acts, particularly the 1998 School Standards and Framework Act and the 2002 Education Act.

Part 1 set out the duties of local authorities in relation to high standards and the fulfilment of potential for every child (section 1), the promotion of diversity and choice (2), consideration of parental representations (3), the identification of children not receiving education (4), the appointment of 'school improvement partners' (5), and the provision of youth work and recreational activities for young people (6)

Part 2 dealt with the establishment of new schools (7-14), school closures (15-17), and alterations to schools (18-32).

Part 3 made further provisions regarding maintained schools, including the duty of governing bodies to promote 'the well-being of pupils' and 'community cohesion' (38). School admissions (39-54) would be subject to a ban on new selection by ability (39) and a ban on interviewing (44). Other sections dealt with the right of sixth-form pupils to be excused from attendance at religious worship (55) and charges for music tuition (56)

Part 4 laid down new regulations regarding those schools causing concern, including intervention by a local authority (63-63) or by the Secretary of State (67-69).

Part 5 amended the provisions of the 2002 Education Act regarding the National Curriculum at Key Stage 4, which was now to consist of three 'core' subjects: maths, English and science; and three 'foundation' subjects: information and communication technology, physical education, and citizenship (74). Other subjects would be optional.

Terry Wrigley has noted that the 2006 Act 'was passed with hardly any scrutiny of the curriculum changes buried deep within the text' (Wrigley 2014:47). Yet the significance of the changes was profound. From now on, the curriculum for 14- to 16-year-olds was effectively divided into two, 're-establishing aspects of the old grammar school versus secondary modern divide' (Wrigley 2014:28). Pupils were faced with making 'firm decisions to embark on vocational courses from age 14, narrowing their future pathways' (Wrigley 2014:29).

Part 6 required local authorities to 'promote sustainable modes of travel' (76) and amended the 1998 School Standards and Framework Act in relation to the setting of nutritional standards for food and drink served in maintained schools (86-87).

Part 7 set out new provisions relating to discipline, behaviour and exclusion, including the use of detention outside school sessions (92), the use of reasonable force by members of staff (93), and confiscation of pupils' belongings (94); the use of parenting contracts (97-99); and the procedure for excluding pupils (100-108).

Part 8 provided for the merging of several existing inspectorates to form an enlarged Ofsted, to be known as the 'Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills', covering the full range of services for children and young people, as well as life-long learning (112). It listed the duties of the Chief Inspector and other inspectors (113-119), and of the Children's Rights Director (120); and set out arrangements for the inspection of further education and training (123-132), and of local authorities in England (135-142) and Wales (143-145).

Parts 9 and 10 dealt with a wide range of miscellaneous matters, including the replacement of references to 'local education authorities' with 'local authorities' in all legislation (162).

School Admissions Code

Following the passing of the Act, in December 2006 the DfES published a consultation document, School Admissions Code, setting out the revised regulations which were to come into force in February 2007.

The document set out:

  • the key legislative provisions relating to school admissions (paragraphs 1.8 to 1.19);
  • required admission authorities, local authorities and governing bodies to ensure clear, objective and fair admission arrangements that did not disadvantage one child compared to another (1.20 to 1.24);
  • provided guidelines and imposed requirements about applications for school places and prohibited the use of unnecessary supplementary application forms (1.26 to 1.40); and
  • provided guidelines on ensuring equity and fair access in admission arrangements (1.41 to 1.53) (DfES 2006c:5).


Meanwhile, the academies programme faced numerous problems.

In June 2005 two major sponsors pulled out of projects in Milton Keynes and north London (The Guardian 14, 22 June 2005).

PriceWaterhouseCoopers reported that academies faced a number of 'significant problems', including widespread bullying and inappropriate buildings. School standards minister Jacqui Smith told The Guardian (16 June 2005) that the government had noted the findings but was determined to press ahead with the programme.

Research by The Education Network on behalf of local education authorities condemned the academies programme as a 'hugely expensive' use of taxpayers' money and an unproven way of transforming failing schools (The Guardian 30 June 2005).

In July 2005 The Guardian reported that the government was preparing a new framework for the setting up of academies, overseen by Andrew Adonis, which would include a re-evaluation of the building of the schools, who sponsored them, and how the sponsorship funds were spent (The Guardian 23 July 2005).

In August 2005 Chief Inspector of schools David Bell defended the academies, claiming their progress was 'broadly positive'. But an Ofsted report revealed 'serious concerns' about the West London Academy in Northolt. It criticised the school's curriculum and leadership, pupil behaviour and the 'extremely high' rate of exclusions (The Guardian 4 August 2005).

Labour MPs were concerned that half of the planned academies were to be sponsored by religious organisations. Commons Education Select Committee chair Barry Sheerman said

If we are going to not have divided, ghettoised communities we have to be very careful of this enthusiasm that some in the Department for Education have for faith schools, and we have got to be very careful about the growth of very religious minorities getting a hold on academies (quoted in The Observer 7 August 2005).
In September 2005 ten new academies opened, four of them backed by Christian organisations and one - the Marlowe Academy in Ramsgate - sponsored by millionaire businessman Roger de Haan, former owner of Saga holidays (The Guardian 5 September 2005).

An EducationGuardian/ICM poll revealed that only six per cent of head teachers supported plans for more academies (The Guardian 13 September 2005).

Tony Blair brushed aside criticism from former education secretary Estelle Morris, the Trades Union Congress and head teachers, and vowed to press on with the programme. But in a sign of growing anxiety that not enough sponsors were coming forward, the government announced a special offer. Potential sponsors were told that if they funded more than three academies, the 'price' for each school would be only 1.5m rather than the standard 2m (The Guardian 16 September 2005).

Ministers repeatedly gave assurances that academies would only be established to replace failing schools in disadvantaged areas, but they continued to break this pledge. Of the 27 schools which had been replaced by academies up to October 2005, only 13 had been in special measures or had had 'serious weaknesses' in the three years before they were taken over, and they were all improving. The last Ofsted report on Brackenhoe High School in Middlesbrough, for example, described it as 'a rapidly improving school that has identified its main weaknesses and is making inroads in resolving them'. It was replaced by the King's Academy. And Thorne grammar school in Doncaster was, said Ofsted, 'an improving and increasingly effective school, which cares well for its pupils'. It was replaced by the Trinity Academy (The Guardian 8 October 2005).

At the Labour Party conference in October 2005, Tony Blair told delegates that academies were helping children in the country's most deprived communities. 'The beneficiaries are not fat cats,' he said. 'They are some of the poorest families in the poorest parts of Britain' (quoted in The Guardian 31 October 2005).

However, The Guardian revealed that the percentage of pupils from less affluent families had fallen, in some cases dramatically, at almost two-thirds of academies, when compared with the 'failing' schools they had replaced. Liberal Democrat education spokesman Ed Davey commented:

The government claims that academies are to serve the disadvantaged, but this suggests a trend in the opposite direction. If the new, privately-managed academies are cherry-picking the better pupils, that will only make the situation worse for neighbouring schools (quoted in The Guardian 31 October 2005).
Despite the criticisms, the government's commitment to 'diversity' meant that state schools were being handed over not only to a bewildering variety of faith groups but also to the electrical retailer Dixons, the drugs company Pfizer, and the chairman of Reading Football Club (The Guardian 22 November 2005).

In January 2006, Des Smith, a government adviser and a council member of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, resigned after it was revealed that he had promised that wealthy individuals who agreed to make large donations to the academies programme might be rewarded with knighthoods and even peerages. He was later arrested (The Guardian 16 January, 15 April 2006).

GCSE results published in January 2006 showed that half the academies were among the worst-performing schools in England (The Guardian 19 January 2006).

Ofsted inspectors branded the Bexley Business Academy in Kent as 'inadequate', highlighting poor teaching, bad behaviour and lower than expected exam results (The Guardian 21 January 2006). They also highlighted 'significant weaknesses' in the sixth form at the 26m academy at Peckham, south London, where standards reached by pupils in both the sixth form and school overall were 'exceptionally low' (The Guardian 23 February 2006).

Andrew Adonis claimed that ninety per cent of local parents were in favour of proposed academies in Leicester. But, as Allan Hayes pointed out in a letter to The Guardian (7 February 2006), this figure was based on 236 responses to 10,000 questionnaires which asked questions such as 'would you want a good school for your children?'

In March 2006, it emerged that plans to close Hurworth School, the top-performing state school in Tony Blair's Sedgefield constituency, and replace it with an academy, were opposed by staff, pupils, parents and governors (The Guardian 7 March 2006). Ofsted inspectors criticised Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough for low attendance rates, poor teaching, inappropriate buildings and 'exceptionally low' results (The Guardian 20 March 2006). And new league tables confirmed what the GCSE results had indicated - that more than half the academies were among the 200 poorest-performing schools in the country (The Guardian 30 March 2006).

In May 2006 The Guardian revealed that 23 of the 27 academies then open had not received the 2m their sponsors had promised, and that four academies which opened in September 2005 had received no cash at all (The Guardian 3 May 2006).

Ministers' claims that academies brought about a dramatic improvement in academic standards, particularly in the number of children getting five or more good GCSEs, were challenged by Terry Wrigley. His research showed that, in the first eleven academies, the number of pupils achieving five GCSE A*-C grades including English and maths had increased by just 0.2 per cent compared with the comprehensive schools they had replaced.

Wrigley commented:

There are variations between academies; some are doing well and some have worse results than the schools they closed down. So why is so much success being attributed to business sponsorship? This is poor evidence on which to base the entire government strategy of academies and trust schools. Government thinking appears to be based more on faith in business sponsors and privatisation than any educational evidence (quoted in The Guardian 22 May 2006).
Furthermore, in order to make their results look better than they were, some academies were involved in what Terry Wrigley has described as a scam:
To create an impression of rapidly improving outcomes, as well as rewarding the adoption of work-related courses, flawed equivalences were invented between GCSEs and other qualifications. In particular, each GNVQ Intermediate would count not just as equivalent in quality to an A*-C grade at GCSE, but in quantitative terms would equate to four subjects-worth of GCSE. This enabled schools to claim that students who had achieved a C in English and Maths plus a single GNVQ had the equivalent of five A*-C grades. The scam was particularly widely used by the new Academies to create the illusion of their superior performance (Wrigley 2014:28).
Meanwhile, more than 200 parents attended a meeting to complain that Peter Vardy's Trinity Academy at Thorne, near Doncaster, was excluding large numbers of pupils and that it was 'pushing an aggressive religious agenda'. A DfES spokesman responded: 'Quite rightly academies are putting discipline first because it is vital to help children learn, and the early signs are that behaviour is improving and the number of exclusions falling' (The Guardian 30 May 2006).

In June 2006, parents' groups began legal challenges against the imposition of academies in the London boroughs of Islington and Merton and in Sheppey in Kent. The challenges focused on the alleged reduction of parents' and pupils' human rights at academies. Because the academies were legally independent, they said, the education acts which gave parents and their children rights in ordinary state schools - to withdraw from religious education, for example - did not apply (The Guardian 13 June 2006). And in a letter to The Guardian (20 June 2006), Felicity Taylor, of Information for School and College Governors, pointed out that academies were not subject to the Freedom of Information Act or the Data Protection Act and did not have to comply with the normal system of independent admission and exclusion appeals.

In July 2006 parent Rob MacDonald was given permission to seek a judicial review of Merton Borough Council's decision to close Tamworth Manor and Mitcham Vale schools and replace them with an academy (The Guardian 6 July 2006).

Another government-commissioned report by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed that the academies were achieving mixed results, with many suffering from poor pupil discipline, bullying and badly designed buildings. Truancy had increased twice as fast as the national average. The study found that, at seven of the eleven academies investigated, exam results at age 14 and at GCSE had improved, while standards at the other four had deteriorated (The Guardian 28 July 2006).

Tony Blair, however, remained determined to pursue the controversial policy, telling a conference of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust in November 2006 that he wanted to see the number of academies rise to 400 (Chitty 2013:125).

In The Academies Programme, published on 23 February 2007, the National Audit Office reported that 'the results of most Ofsted inspections of academies have been encouraging' but warned that 'not every academy has achieved a satisfactory or better Ofsted inspection report' (NAO 2007:7).

Most academies had made 'good progress in improving GCSE results', but 'overall performance in English and maths remains low' (NAO 2007:8). The proportion of students getting five or more good GCSEs including English and maths in all secondary schools was 45 per cent; in the academies it was 22 per cent (NAO 2007:17).

Most academy buildings were 'of good quality' (NAO 2007:8): they had cost between 6.5m and 40.4m to refurbish or build, an average of 24.0m (NAO 2007:32). Of the first 26 academies, 17 had exceeded their construction budgets (NAO 2007:33).

Education secretary Alan Johnson welcomed the report's findings. 'Academies work - and are worth it,' he said. 'I am delighted it is such a positive report' (The Guardian 23 February 2007).

In March 2007, Gordon Brown, now just months away from becoming Prime Minister, was persuaded (against the advice of friends) to accompany Tony Blair on a visit to Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, the only one of 46 academies to be rated outstanding. Brown, who had hitherto said nothing in public about the academies programme, praised 'the tremendous success of the academy movement' (The Guardian 20 March 2007).

Faith schools

Equally controversial was the government's desire to see more schools controlled by faith groups. A Guardian/ICM poll revealed that two-thirds of the public agreed with the statement that 'the government should not be funding faith schools of any kind' (The Guardian 23 August 2005).


For many people, the principal objection to faith schools was that they divided communities. In Scotland, First Minister Jack McConnell announced that Roman Catholic and non-denominational schools were to be twinned in an attempt to tackle the country's sectarian divisions. Under the proposals, children would come together for activities such as drama, sport and school trips (The Guardian 31 January 2006).

In England, Labour MPs were concerned that church schools were being colonised by middle-class parents feigning religious belief. They were supported by Sally (Baroness) Morgan, formerly an adviser to Tony Blair, who told the House of Lords:

I have to confess ... that I feel uneasy about two aspects of some faith schools. First, the selection procedures must be fair and transparent, but we all know that at times that is not the case. I welcome the proposals to end interviews, but I think we need to go further. Secondly, I am nervous of single-faith intakes in a minority of schools. These cannot help to promote tolerance or cohesiveness (Hansard House of Lords 8 February 2006 Cols 725-6).
Meanwhile, the Young Foundation, a think-tank dedicated to eradicating inequalities in society, published The New East End, which warned that church schools in east London had fuelled social segregation between the white and immigrant communities. In 2002, it noted, four church secondary schools in Tower Hamlets had three per cent or fewer Bangladeshi pupils, while three nearby non-faith schools had more than 90 per cent. The book concluded that the borough's Roman Catholic schools had become 'white citadels', with parents even having their children baptised as Catholics to ensure they got into the 'right' school (The Observer 12 February 2006).

In an attempt to placate the critics, in February 2006 representatives of the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist organisations signed a declaration that, in addition to teaching their own religion, their schools would promote awareness of the tenets of other faiths (The Guardian 14 March 2006).

A month later, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams told the National Church Schools conference in London that faith schools played an essential part in developing strong inclusive communities. However, he went on to urge that they should adopt national criteria for admissions, develop universal principles of teaching about other faiths, and arrange exchanges between schools, so that pupils could be exposed to the teachings of other religions (The Guardian 14 March 2006).

Covert selection

Critics also accused faith schools of operating covert selection procedures.

Writing in The Guardian (14 July 2006), Natasha Walter noted the findings of a survey of all 17,000 primary schools in England conducted by the Institute for Research in Integrated Strategies. It found that in church primary schools only 13.96 per cent of pupils were on free school meals, compared with 18.96 per cent in their catchment areas. In community schools it was the other way round: 20.36 per cent of pupils were on free school meals, compared with 18.76 per cent in their catchment areas. The author of the report, Chris Waterman, said

The figures seem to indicate a strong correlation between Christianity and wealth, and yet that is not borne out by the population. The alternative explanation is that church schools are selecting or attracting better-off pupils (quoted in Walter 2006).
Natasha Walter pointed out that, in some areas, Waterman's statistical averages concealed 'much starker individual contrasts' (Walter 2006). At Emmanuel Church of England School in Camden, for example, 17 per cent of children were on free school meals, but at the neighbouring Beckford Community School the figure was 44 per cent.

Gender issues

Natalie Hanman, meanwhile, was concerned about the role of women. Writing in The Guardian (9 May 2006), she said: 'Lost in the arguments for and against faith-based education, amid concerns over the creeping influence of creationism, is the role and rights of women, and the effect faith schools may be having on gender relations' (Hanman 2006).

She went on to point out that the government had not published any gender-specific statistics on faith schools and was not aware of any research in this area:

on whether girls and boys in faith schools are taught a different curriculum, as was found to be the case in a now closed independent Muslim school in Scotland; on whether girls and boys in faith schools are achieving different grades or leaving school at different ages compared with each other and with their peers in non-faith schools (Hanman 2006).
A DfES spokesperson said undertaking such research would be a 'massively disproportionate' use of taxpayers' money. Yet from April 2007 there would be a legal requirement for all state schools to promote gender equality.

Clara Connolly, of Women Against Fundamentalisms, commented that

The main problem with faith schools is that their primary purpose is to socialise women into their major roles of wives and mothers. All the most conservative faiths - Islamic, Catholic, Jewish, evangelical - agree that women have a place in the family and that women should be educated towards that aim (quoted in Hanman 2006)
These concerns were underlined in a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report by Robert Furbey (and seven others), Faith as social capital. Published in March 2006, it warned that power inequalities within religious communities could have negative effects, particularly the subordination of women:
Many of our interviewees observed that women do most of the work in community activity. Nevertheless they become less visible the further one moves from grassroots activity, and the higher one goes up the ladder of decision making (Furbey et al 2006:30).

Scientists focused on the issue of creationist teaching. In June 2006 the Royal Society, representing Britain's leading scientists, invited Professor Steve Jones to deliver a lecture entitled Why creationism is wrong and evolution is right. The problem was not peculiarly British: the national science academies of 67 countries issued a joint statement warning that scientific evidence about the origins of life was being 'concealed, denied, or confused'. It urged parents as well as teachers to provide children with the facts about the origins and evolution of life on Earth (The Guardian 22 June 2006).

But creationists persisted. In September 2006 a group calling itself Truth in Science sent a teaching pack promoting 'intelligent design' to the heads of science at all secondary schools in the UK (The Guardian 27 November 2006). Education minister Jim Knight (1965- ) sought to clarify the government's position. 'Neither intelligent design nor creationism are recognised scientific theories and they are not included in the science curriculum', he said. 'The Truth in Science information pack is therefore not an appropriate resource to support the science curriculum.' The DfES said it was working with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to communicate this message directly to schools (The Guardian 7 December 2006).

Human rights

In The Guardian (26 September 2006), Francis Beckett reported on concerns about the human rights of 16- to 18-year-olds in religious schools.

He noted that at St Luke's Roman Catholic Sixth Form College in Sidcup, Kent, a week before A Level exams began in the summer of 2006, 17 students had been suspended for a day because they had chosen to miss the weekly school mass and instead had spent the time revising. On another occasion, students had been compelled to listen to American evangelist Barbara McGuigan, who founded the Catholic charity Voice of Virtue International. Michael Aldis, an 18-year-old student, told Beckett:

Once there, we weren't allowed to leave. Teachers were posted at the doors. She told us that if we had an abortion we'd go to hell for ever. Some of the girls were in tears (quoted in Beckett 2006).
McGuigan had also told the students that homosexuality was a 'disorder', that homosexuals must remain chaste, and that unmarried couples could not enjoy successful relationships.

Shortly after these events, the principal of St Luke's, Maria Williams, and the chair of governors, Father Timothy Finigan, both resigned. No doubt many of the students hoped that, with the school under new management, they would no longer have to endure this sort of abuse. But even as these events were unfolding at St Luke's, the Catholic Education Service was fighting a government proposal to allow students over 16 to opt out of compulsory worship and religious teaching, and was campaigning for the legal right to force 18-year-olds to attend mass and to be instructed in Catholic dogma.

Keith Porteous Wood, Director of the National Secular Society, commented:

The inability in law of older pupils to withdraw themselves from collective worship contravenes their rights under the Human Rights Act. The European Convention on Human Rights gives to pupils themselves the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The Catholic Education Service appears to think that religious schools should be exempt from the duty to apply human rights in its schools. But these are publicly funded institutions, and human rights are universal (quoted in Beckett 2006).
More controversies

Faced with the rising tide of hostility to religious schools, the new education secretary Alan Johnson announced that faith schools would be encouraged to launch exchange programmes with teachers of other religions, that independent faith schools should demonstrate their charitable status by cooperating more closely with non-faith schools, and that the government would require new faith schools to admit up to a quarter of their pupils from families of other faiths or none. He said:

We must be careful that, rather than driving people into defending their faith, we instead encourage an open celebration of our diversity. Schools should cross ethnic and religious boundaries, and certainly not increase them, or exacerbate the difficulties in this sensitive area (quoted in The Guardian 18 October 2006).
But the Roman Catholic Church and the Board of Deputies of British Jews vigorously opposed his proposal on admissions and it was quickly dropped. In an attempt to salvage the situation, Johnson claimed that a voluntary agreement between the Church of England and the Catholic Church had been reached, and that this made the legislation unnecessary. He said he had 'made considerable progress' with faith groups and MPs in finding ways to ensure that non-believers could be accommodated in new faith schools. All governing bodies would have a duty to promote community cohesion, he said:
I have listened carefully to colleagues on this issue, and recognise we all share the same goal for a more cohesive society where faith schools play an important part in building understanding and tolerance of other faiths and communities (quoted in The Guardian 27 October 2006).
Meanwhile, Andrew Adonis proposed that faith schools should be allowed to favour members of their own religion when appointing support staff. The National Secular Society and the GMB union, whose members included school support staff, said the change would extend discrimination (The Guardian 24 October 2006).

There was a national furore over the case of a Muslim teaching assistant who refused to remove her veil in school if a man was present. She was eventually sacked after failing to make concessions (The Guardian 25 November 2006).

Church schools applied for exemption from new legislation designed to prevent schools from teaching children that homosexual acts were sinful (The Guardian 5 December 2006) and, in March 2007, the Roman Catholic Church refused to follow government guidelines urging schools to set up specific policies against homophobic bullying (The Guardian 27 March 2007).

Two Guardian/ICM surveys in December 2006 illustrated the depth of professional and public concern about religious involvement in education. One reported that almost half of head teachers believed that religious schools actively contributed to a less tolerant society (The Guardian 5 December 2006); the other found that 82 per cent of the public saw religion as a cause of division and tension (The Guardian 23 December 2006).

The widely-held view that non-faith schools were more effective in promoting religious and racial integration was supported by research published in August 2006 by Irene Bruegel, professor of urban policy at London South Bank University (The Guardian 5 December 2006).


The issue of selection at age 11 continued to cause problems for politicians of both main parties.

League tables based on GCSE results for 2006 showed that most of the worst performing schools were in the shire counties which still had grammar schools. Kent and Lincolnshire - both fully selective - were among the worst. Margaret Tulloch, of Comprehensive Future, said she was organising a delegation of parents' leaders to meet schools minister Jim Knight in an effort to persuade the government to abolish the country's remaining 164 grammar schools (The Independent 20 January 2007).

David Cameron, the newly-elected leader of the Conservative Party, stated that there would be 'no return to the eleven plus' or to grammar schools under a Conservative government (The Guardian 10 January 2006). Less than a fortnight later a poll showed that three-quarters of his party members disapproved of his statement (The Observer 22 January 2006).

Cameron and his shadow education secretary, David Willetts, ran into further trouble over their grammar schools policy in May. Cameron said 'a pointless debate about creating a few grammar schools is not going to get us anywhere', and promised instead to concentrate on raising standards and improving discipline in all England's 24,000 state schools. Willetts argued that 'academic selection entrenches advantage, it does not spread it'. Tory MPs thought otherwise and the new policy was attacked by a dozen backbenchers at a meeting of the party's 1922 Committee (The Guardian 17 May 2007).

While Tony Blair continued to defend the existence of England's remaining grammar schools, in Northern Ireland plans were announced to abolish selection. The eleven plus was to be replaced by a new 'pupil profile' drawn up throughout a child's primary education and used as a basis for teachers to advise parents which secondary school their child should attend. After 2008, all pupils between 11 and 14 would get a comprehensive education (The Guardian 7 February 2006).

Curriculum and testing

Synthetic phonics

In June 2005 Ruth Kelly invited former Chief Inspector of Primary Education Jim Rose to conduct a review of the teaching of reading. Rose published his interim report in December 2005, on the basis of which Kelly said she would require all primary schools to teach reading by 'synthetic phonics', and to use no other method.

The final report of the Independent review of the teaching of early reading was published by the DfES in March 2006. In his Summary, Rose wrote:

Despite uncertainties in research findings, the practice seen by the review shows that the systematic approach, which is generally understood as 'synthetic' phonics, offers the vast majority of young children the best and most direct route to becoming skilled readers and writers (Rose 2006:4).
He noted, however, that
It is widely agreed that reading involves far more than decoding words on the page. Nevertheless, words must be decoded if readers are to make sense of the text. Phonic work is therefore a necessary but not sufficient part of the wider knowledge, skills and understanding which children need to become skilled readers and writers, capable of comprehending and composing text (Rose 2006:4).
Synthetic phonics had first attracted attention in 1998, when a study showed improved reading abilities in Clackmannanshire four-year-olds taught by the method. Experts in the teaching of reading were quick to point out that the study had been tiny and flawed. When The Guardian suggested that 'By the age of 11, those children taught using synthetic phonics were three years ahead of their peers in reading skills', Professor Stephen Krashen, of the University of Southern California, responded:
Not quite. I have read this report. Only 177 children were tested at age 11, and they were ahead only on tests of pronouncing words presented in lists. On tests of reading comprehension, they were only three months ahead of national norms. Major policy changes should be based on sterner stuff (letter to The Guardian 5 December 2005).
Dr Jackie Marsh, President of the United Kingdom Literacy Association, argued:
Of course it is important for children to be taught phonics in a systematic way, but there is no robust research evidence to suggest that synthetic phonics should be the first, or only, method used. A balanced combination of synthetic and analytic approaches has been the method employed successfully in England for some years.

... the teaching of phonics needs to be only one element of a rich and varied reading curriculum, if we are to ensure that children in our schools become keen and successful readers (letter to The Guardian 3 December 2005).

And Nansi Ellis, deputy head of education policy at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said:
We need a comprehensive and properly funded programme to develop the knowledge and understanding of all who teach young children to read, building on the wealth of experience that children already have. Teachers and children do not need a new literacy strategy that dictates what to do on a daily basis (quoted in The Guardian 2 December 2005).
Kelly ignored them all and continued with her 'dogmatic insistence on the systematic and discrete teaching of synthetic phonics ... despite there being no research evidence to show it would improve understanding, as opposed to pronouncing the words correctly' (Wrigley 2014:28).

Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group

The report of the Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group, 2020 Vision, was published by the DfES in December 2006.

Chaired by Christine Gilbert (who went on to become head of Ofsted), the Review Group recommended that:

  • there should be a greater emphasis on personalised learning;
  • assessment should be 'embedded in all schools and classrooms' and should aim to promote progress;
  • national assessment should be 'revised in response to personalising learning';
  • schools' self-evaluation should draw on pupils' feedback;
  • parents and carers should be engaged in their children's education;
  • links between schools and family and parenting support services should be strengthened;
  • the design of new schools should reflect the greater emphasis on personalised learning;
  • initial teacher training should focus on skills for personalising learning;
  • there should be a 'better system of innovation in learning and teaching for pupils of school age'; and
  • the government should consider introducing an entitlement to additional support for pupils needing it (DfES 2006b:43-48).
Teachers gave the report a guarded welcome (The Guardian 4 January 2007).

National Curriculum

The new arrangements for the Key Stage 4 curriculum, which had been introduced in 2004, had led to a dramatic fall in the number of 14- to 16-year-olds learning foreign languages. In February 2007, therefore, ministers announced a shake-up of foreign language teaching. Schools would now be allowed to teach Mandarin and Urdu instead of the more traditional French or German (The Observer 4 February 2007).

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) published new plans for Key Stage 3 (11- to 14-year-olds). The proposals were designed to give schools greater flexibility in deciding what to teach and to make it easier for children of different abilities to progress at their own speeds. There would be a greater focus on 'life skills' (The Guardian 5, 6 February 2007).

In April 2007 the QCA began consulting on a new secondary curriculum scheduled for introduction in September 2008. The move was part of a major overhaul of teaching at Key Stages 3 and 4. QCA chief executive Dr Ken Boston said the aim was to ensure that all pupils were 'actively and imaginatively engaged in their learning' (The Guardian 3 April 2007).

Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, soon to become Labour leader and Prime Minister, announced a review of the National Numeracy Strategy and promised to ensure that by 2010 more than 300,000 pupils would benefit from one-to-one tuition in maths (The Guardian 15 May 2007).

An Ofsted report, Making sense of religion, published in June 2007, argued that 'GCSE syllabuses pay little attention to issues related to religion's role and significance in contemporary Britain', and that the teaching of Christianity was 'often much less rigorous and more fragmented' (Ofsted 2007a:27). It stressed that religious education (RE) should promote community cohesion:

RE cannot ignore its role in fostering community cohesion and in educating for diversity. This goal has never been far from good RE teaching but the current changes in society give this renewed urgency. Pupils have opinions, attitudes, feelings, prejudices and stereotypes. Developing respect for the commitments of others while retaining the right to question, criticise and evaluate different viewpoints is not just an academic exercise: it involves creating opportunities for children and young people to meet those with different viewpoints. They need to grasp how powerful religion is in people's lives. RE should engage pupils' feelings and emotions, as well as their intellect (Ofsted 2007a:41).
Tests and exams

Ken Boston, Chief Executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, admitted that pupils faced a huge and excessive exam load which had distorted the balance of what was taught in schools. He said he was determined to reduce the number of tests that pupils in England and Wales were forced to sit (The Observer 26 March 2006).

Schools minister Jim Knight announced that GCSE exams in English and maths were to be made harder as part of a major government drive to raise basic educational skills (The Observer 20 August 2006), and education secretary Alan Johnson said that primary school maths lessons would focus more on mental arithmetic, with children expected to master their multiplication tables by the age of eight (The Guardian 8 September 2006).

In January 2007 Johnson announced that pupils in England would face more but shorter national tests if pilot schemes in ten local authorities were successful. National targets and league tables would remain. They were 'non-negotiable', he said (The Guardian 9 January 2007).

The General Teaching Council for England (GTC) called for all national school tests for 7-, 11- and 14-year-olds to be scrapped. It pointed out that children in England took around 70 different tests before the age of 16, making them the most tested in the world. GTC Chief Executive Keith Bartley said:

Of course there still needs to be a way of testing pupils when their standard education comes to a close ... But placing added stress on pupils, teachers and parents on a regular basis before that time is not creating the best environment for learning. We need to ... let them [teachers] do what they are trained for (The Guardian 11 June 2007).
The GTC's demand was supported by the Liberal Democrats and by Jon Cruddas, one of the candidates for Labour's deputy leadership, but firmly rebuffed by the government and the Conservatives.

Research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation challenged the common perception that African-Caribbean, black or Bangladeshi pupils achieved lower standards at school than white working-class pupils. The report Tackling low educational achievement, published in June 2007, called for reform of school league tables, especially at GCSE level, which it said discouraged many schools from admitting pupils who might lower their scores.

The report's lead author, Professor Robert Cassen of the London School of Economics, said:

Disadvantaged children are behind educationally before they enter school and need more pre-school help. Improvements could be made to identify and support children who are late in learning to read and write at primary school, and to address their problems before they become entrenched. It is expensive - but even more expensive not to do it (quoted in The Guardian (22 June 2007).
The Cambridge Primary Review

After nearly three years of consultation and planning, the Cambridge Primary Review, sponsored by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and led by Professor Robin Alexander, was launched in October 2006. By 2010 it had published 31 interim reports and its final report, Children, their World, their Education. Further details of the Review will be found in the next chapter.

2007 Ajegbo Report: Diversity and Citizenship

The report of the Diversity and Citizenship Curriculum Review Group, chaired by former head teacher Sir Keith Ajegbo, was published by the DfES in January 2007.

Diversity and Citizenship reported that the quality and quantity of education for diversity were uneven across England, that not all school leaders gave it sufficient priority, and that pupils' views were not given enough consideration.

Links with the community were often tenuous or non-existent; the notion of racial hierarchies had not altogether disappeared and stereotypes were still common; many teachers did not see the link between their subject and education for diversity; and there was insufficient effective teacher training (Ajegbo 2007:6-7).

Among the Review Group's 24 recommendations were:

  • all schools should have mechanisms in place to ensure that the pupil voice is heard and acted upon;
  • training in diversity and citizenship should be an essential component of all leadership training;
  • schools should be encouraged to audit their curriculum to establish what they currently teach that is meaningful for all pupils in relation to diversity and multiple identities;
  • schools should build active links between and across communities, with education for diversity as a focus;
  • the Training and Development Agency for Schools should evaluate the effectiveness of education for diversity across initial teacher training providers;
  • the DfES and Ofsted should ensure that schools and inspectors have a clear understanding of the new duty on schools to promote community cohesion; and
  • wherever possible, education for diversity should appear in syllabuses and exam questions (Ajegbo 2007:9-11).
With regard to education for citizenship, the Review Group said:
Given that the evidence suggests Citizenship education works best when delivered discretely, we recommend this as the preferred model for schools. We recommend greater definition and support in place of the flexible, 'light touch' approach (Ajegbo 2007:11).
The Review Group was anxious to reassure teachers that their report did not herald 'yet another initiative':
The challenge for the education system is to strike a balance between school autonomy, with the necessary flexibility for a school to develop its own imaginative solutions to local problems; and the need to ensure every pupil's core entitlement to education for diversity and for citizenship, which will give them the skills to participate in an active and inclusive democracy, appreciating and understanding difference (Ajegbo 2007:11).
Welcoming the report, Alan Johnson said:
More can be done to strengthen the curriculum so that pupils are taught more explicitly about why British values of tolerance and respect prevail in society and how our national, regional, religious and ethnic identities have developed over time.

I believe that schools can and should play a leading role in creating greater community cohesion. The values our children learn at school will shape the kind of country Britain becomes (BBC News 25 January 2007).


2005 Steer Report: Learning behaviour

The Practitioners' Group on School Behaviour and Discipline was appointed in June 2005. In a letter to the chair, Sir Alan Steer, head of Seven Kings High School in the London Borough of Redbridge, Tony Blair noted that

Ofsted has reported that the biggest issue for most schools is the extent of what the inspectors call 'low level disruption - the backchat and disrespect which makes it so hard for teachers to teach and pupils to learn (Steer 2005:86).
The Prime Minister was also concerned about the use of exclusion. He described this as 'a crucial sanction for head teachers', but added that it was important that each suspension was seen as 'a serious punishment, both by the pupil and his or her parents'. He asked the Group to consider 'how we might reinforce this' (Steer 2005:87).

The Group submitted its report Learning behaviour to schools minister Jacqui Smith in October 2005. It listed six 'core beliefs' about behaviour in schools:

  • The quality of learning, teaching and behaviour in schools are inseparable issues, and the responsibility of all staff;
  • Poor behaviour cannot be tolerated as it is a denial of the right of pupils to learn and teachers to teach. To enable learning to take place preventative action is the most effective, but where this fails, schools must have clear, firm and intelligent strategies in place to help pupils manage their behaviour;
  • There is no single solution to the problem of poor behaviour, but all schools have the potential to raise standards if they are consistent in implementing good practice in learning, teaching and behaviour management;
  • Respect has to be given in order to be received. Parents and carers, pupils and teachers all need to operate in a culture of mutual regard;
  • The support of parents is essential for the maintenance of good behaviour. Parents and schools each need to have a clear understanding of their rights and responsibilities;
  • School leaders have a critical role in establishing high standards of learning, teaching and behaviour (Steer 2005:2).
Sir Alan Steer went on to produce a number of government-commissioned reports on behaviour in schools, including Learning behaviour: Lessons learned in 2009, details of which will be found in the next chapter.

2006 CPAC report on school attendance

In January 2006 the Commons Public Accounts Committee published its assessment of the success of the DfES in reducing the level of pupil truancy. Improving school attendance in England noted that

Total absence in maintained schools has been reducing - by 6% between 2002-03 and 2004-05 - but unauthorised absence stayed around the same level for many years, before increasing in 2004-05 to over 0.8% of available school days (CPAC 2006:5).
The Committee identified ten 'key practices' to help schools manage attendance more effectively:
1. Head teacher support for attendance management
2. Communication of a clear policy on attendance
3. Electronic registration at each lesson
4. Early contact with parents of absent pupils
5. Regular analysis of attendance data
6. Schemes to reward attendance
7. Provision of alternative curricula
8. Collaboration between schools
9. Effective working with education welfare services
10. Threat of legal sanctions (CPAC 2006:5).
Among the points made by the Committee were:
  • A school's shared values, or ethos, can make a big difference to a school's attendance level;
  • Children and young people brought up in deprived circumstances suffer a double disadvantage because absence from school reduces their life chances further;
  • Making the curriculum more relevant to reluctant attenders takes time and effort but has been successful in raising pupils' attendance and helping them want to learn;
  • The Department and schools spend substantial sums on tackling absence, but national absence data is of limited use and not completely reliable;
  • Around 60% of secondary schools have electronic registration systems and most find them effective in helping to tackle absence;
  • Reintegration of pupils returning to school after a long period of absence requires appropriate planning and resources; and
  • Too many pupils are absent from school on term-time holidays (CPAC 2006:5-6).
2007 CESC report on bullying

In its report on Bullying, published on 27 March 2007, the Commons Education Select Committee welcomed the advice already provided by the DfES, but added that additional guidance should be given to schools 'on how to ensure difficult issues, such as the use of homophobic language and more subtle forms of bullying, are included in this process' (CESC 2007a:10).

The Committee expressed particular concerns about faith-based homophobic bullying and was critical of the Roman Catholic Church for its stance on the issue, noting that Archbishop Nichols of Birmingham, head of the Catholic Education Service, had said he 'doubted that anti-bullying policies needed to deal specifically with different types of bullying' (CESC 2007a:14).

Members felt that

a lack of accurate reliable data on bullying is one barrier to more effective anti-bullying work. We recommend that the Department introduces a requirement for schools to record all incidents of bullying along with information about the type of bullying incident (CESC 2007a:15).
The Committee concluded by urging the government
to initiate an open and honest discussion about how to judge the success of anti-bullying work. We consider that expecting anti-bullying work to completely eradicate bullying is unrealistic. We believe it would be more helpful for the Government to foster a culture where schools are encouraged to be open about incidents of bullying, have effective ways of dealing with bullying when it occurs and provide support for the victims of bullying, rather than a culture where schools feel reporting incidents of bullying will damage their reputation (CESC 2007a:34).

Other developments 2005-2007

Building Schools for the Future

A survey by the government-funded Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) found that half the schools built between 2000 and 2005 were poor, with only 19 per cent rated as excellent or good. Nine of the ten worst-designed new schools were built using the controversial private finance initiative. CABE's Chief Executive, Richard Simmons, said: 'It's clear from our audit that there are simply not enough schools being built or designed at the moment that are exemplary, inspiring, innovative or flexibly designed' (The Guardian 4 July 2006).

In January 2007, the DfES said there had been a 'natural slowdown' in the process of rebuilding because local authorities were struggling to manage the complex construction contracts (The Guardian 16 January 2007). Tim Byles, the newly-appointed Chief Executive of Partnerships for Schools, which was responsible for delivering the Building Schools for the Future programme, said:

I'm not here to say everything was right at the beginning. The plans were over ambitious and not deliverable. We rightly started with the areas of greatest need and it is now clear they are also the most challenging (quoted in The Guardian 16 January 2007).
When Building Schools for the Future was launched in February 2004, the budget for its first year was set at 5bn. By 2007 it had grown to 45bn (The Guardian 16 January 2007), and by 2011 to 55bn (BBC News 14 June 2011).

Middle schools

By 2006 only three local authorities - the Isle of Wight, Bedfordshire and Northumberland - still had exclusively three-tier school systems. A few other authorities had small enclaves with middle schools.

Bedfordshire's 33 middle schools remained open in September 2006 following a successful parents' campaign. In Northumberland parents had lobbied hard to keep their middle schools and no decision on their future had yet been made. In Suffolk, where about half the schools were in a three-tier system, ideas for restructuring were being considered.

Almost all children in England (97 per cent) were now in two-tier systems with transfer at age 11 (The Guardian 5 September 2006).

(For more on middle schools see chapters 11, 12, 15 and 16 of this history and the website of the National Middle Schools Forum.)


A new Ofsted inspection regime was introduced in September 2005. Inspections were now to be shorter and sharper and schools would be given only a couple of days' notice of inspectors' visits. David Bell described the changes as 'the most radical since Ofsted was set up in 1992' (The Guardian 30 August 2005).

Christine Gilbert (pictured) replaced David Bell as head of Ofsted and Chief Inspector of Schools on 1 October 2006. She had been a teacher and a head, and had had various local government posts including that of Chief Executive of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

On 1 April 2007, as decreed by the 2006 Education and Inspections Act, Ofsted became 'The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills'. In addition to its existing schools inspection role, the new Ofsted took on responsibilities from three other existing inspectorates: the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI); the work relating to children of the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI); and the work relating to the children and family courts of HM Inspectorate of Court Administration (HMICA).

Higher education

In February 2006, six months before the introduction of student tuition 'top-up' fees, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) reported a 3.4 per cent drop in the number of people applying for a university place - the first fall for six years (The Guardian 16 February 2006).

Research carried out by a team led by Nick Foskett at Southampton University suggested that those worst hit by tuition fees would be middle-class students whose families were just above the threshold for financial support (The Guardian 3 April 2006).

Top-up fees came under attack again in July 2006 when figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed a small drop in the proportion of young first-year university students from low-income families. The percentage of students coming from state schools and colleges had also fallen (The Guardian 20 July 2006).

In October 2006, UCAS revealed that 15,000 fewer students had begun a university course compared with the number in the previous year. Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Sarah Teather said 'The evidence is now undeniable - top-up fees deter people from going to university. Ministers must reconsider this mistaken policy that has such a negative impact' (The Guardian 19 October 2006).

Teather's view did not, however, prevent her from voting in favour of a tripling of tuition fees when she became a coalition government minister in 2010.

Head teachers

In September 2006, the General Teaching Council reported that schools in England were facing a leadership crisis because only four per cent of teachers aspired to headship. At the same time, more than a third of head teachers said they were planning to retire by 2011 (The Guardian 5 September 2006).

A report for the DfES by PricewaterhouseCoopers said schools should be allowed to appoint business executives as heads, even if they were not qualified as teachers (The Guardian 18 January 2007).

Children in care

In October 2006 the DfES published Care Matters: Transforming the Lives of Children and Young People in Care.

In his Foreword to the Green Paper, Alan Johnson wrote that:

The life chances of all children have improved but those of children in care have not improved at the same rate. The result is that children in care are now at greater risk of being left behind than was the case a few years ago - the gap has actually grown.

This is neither acceptable nor inevitable and we are determined through the proposals in this Green Paper to first halt the trend and secondly to reverse it. Addressing every aspect of these children's lives and every public service they encounter, the Green Paper aims to transform both the way in which the care system works for children and the quality of experience they and others on the edge of entering or leaving care actually receive. And in doing this, we are determined to put the voice of the child in care at the centre both of our reforms and of day-to-day practice. It is only by listening to these children that we can understand their concerns and know whether or not we are meeting their needs (DfES 2006a:3-4).

The Green Paper's proposals (summarised on pages 6-9), formed the basis of the Blair government's last White Paper, Care Matters: Time for Change, published on 21 June 2007.

The White Paper's proposals for improving 'the plight of children in care' (DfES 2007b:3) related to:

  • corporate parenting;
  • family and parenting support;
  • care placements;
  • ensuring that children in care received a high quality education;
  • promoting health and wellbeing;
  • the transition to adulthood; and
  • the role of the practitioner (DfES 2007b:7-12).
2007 Green Paper: Raising Expectations

In January 2007, education secretary Alan Johnson announced that the government was planning to require all teenagers to remain in some form of education and training up to the age of 18. He hoped that this change in the school leaving age - the first since 1973 - might be implemented by 2015. The idea was broadly welcomed, though teacher unions warned that it would need to be properly funded (The Guardian 13 January 2007).

Johnson's announcement was followed, in March 2007, by the Green Paper Raising Expectations: staying in education and training post-16. It proposed that:

  • all young people should participate in education or training until their 18th birthday;
  • participation could be at school, in a college, in work-based learning, or in accredited training provided by an employer;
  • in order to count as participating, young people would be required to work towards accredited qualifications; and
  • participation should be full time for young people not in employment for a significant part of the week, and part time for those working more than 20 hours a week (DfES 2007a:6).

Launching the Green Paper, Johnson warned that teenagers who broke the proposed new leaving age could face 50 fixed penalty fines, Asbo-style attendance orders or driving bans. National Union of Teachers General Secretary Steve Sinnott warned that 'Criminalising young people is no way to ensure committed involvement. It will only serve to alienate and undermine any desire disaffected young people feel towards continuing their education' (The Guardian 23 March 2007).

Tim Brighouse

In April 2007, Tim Brighouse (1940- ) (pictured), whose career in education had spanned half a century, announced his decision to retire as Schools Commissioner for London.

Brighouse had graduated from St Catherine's College Oxford in 1960. He then took his PGCE at Oxford's Department of Education and began his career as a teacher. By 1966 he was deputy head of a secondary modern school in South Wales.

In the 1970s he moved into educational administration, working first for Buckinghamshire and then, from 1978 until 1989, as Chief Education Officer for Oxfordshire.

After four years as Professor of Education at Keele University, Brighouse was appointed Chief Education Officer for Birmingham, where the local education authority was at a low ebb. Tory education secretary John Patten described him as a 'madman ... wandering the streets, frightening the children'. Brighouse successfully sued, and donated his substantial out-of-court settlement to educational charities (The Guardian 24 April 2007).

In April 2002, Ofsted inspected Birmingham's local education authority and described it as 'an example to all others of what can be done, even in the most demanding urban environments' (Ofsted 2002:5). Of Brighouse himself, the report said:

The leadership provided by the chief education officer is outstanding, and has contributed significantly to the 'can do' and aspirational culture demonstrated by headteachers and others interviewed during the inspection, without which such a good rate of improvement is unlikely to have been achieved (Ofsted 2002:6).
Brighouse's final appointment, in 2002, was as Schools Commissioner for London, in which post he oversaw the London Challenge, a scheme to make the capital 'a world leader in education'. He was knighted in 2009.

Writing in The Guardian (24 April 2007), Peter Wilby noted that Brighouse had been described as 'charismatic, visionary, inspirational, even saintly' and he quoted a former Downing Street aide as saying 'He's wonderful. Everybody will tell you that' (Wilby 2007).

The Blair legacy

John Major's administration, undermined by allegations of sleaze and divisions over Britain's membership of the European Union, had became deeply unpopular, so it was unsurprising that many breathed a sigh of relief when New Labour swept to power with a huge Commons majority on 1 May 1997. 'In many quarters, New Labour's astonishing electoral victory was ... greeted with a heady mixture of hope, optimism and expectancy' (Chitty 2009a:248). Teachers, whose morale was at a low ebb after the constant denigration and endless diktats they had endured at the hands of the 'New Right', had good cause to feel positive. The hopes of millions rested on Tony Blair's shoulders.

In some areas of education, New Labour did make a real and positive difference.

There were some early reversals of Tory policy: the abolition of nursery school vouchers and the ending of the Assisted Places Scheme, for example.

Schools benefited from a vastly increased education budget because New Labour endeavoured to compensate for years of low education expenditure and comparative neglect:

New Labour's investment in technology meant that many school classrooms were to be strikingly well equipped, with computers, electronic whiteboards and the like. There was also an increase in the numbers of support staff in schools, which meant that many children were now able to get one-to-one help or benefit from small group provision on a scale largely unknown in the 1990s. The effects of all this should not be underestimated (Chitty 2009a:249-250).
And, as Polly Curtis observed in The Guardian (8 December 2009), exam results improved, too: the proportion of pupils getting five good GCSEs including English and maths rose from 40.7 per cent in 2000 to 47.3 per cent in 2008 (Curtis 2009).

But in most other aspects of its education policy, New Labour was a disappointment to many. Tony Blair's governments adopted Tory policies and took them further: the Teacher Training Agency and Ofsted remained in place; covert selection was extended under the guise of specialism; schools were privatised; the role of the local education authorities was further diminished; and the involvement of churches and other faith groups in educational provision was hugely increased.

There was to be much talk of the promotion of social inclusion and social cohesion; but this laudable aim was to be seriously undermined by the continued emphasis on choice and diversity, particularly at the secondary level, where a policy of selection based on school status was to be increasingly replaced by one based on curricular specialisation (Chitty 2009a:249).
There were several broken promises, notably those to abolish key-stage testing and league tables, to incorporate the remaining grammar schools into the comprehensive system, and to end selection. 'In fact, there were more tests, more league tables, and more standard setting for individual schools' (Lawton 2005:144); 'impossible hurdles' were put in place to prevent grammar schools becoming non-selective (Lawton 2005:145); and selection was actually increased by the government's policy of specialist schools, beacon schools and more faith schools,
all of which encouraged the growth of a 'multi-tier system' of secondary education rather than a policy of good schools in all areas (Lawton 2005:145).
There were also a number of fiascos: David Blunkett's vicious rows with Ofsted chief Chris Woodhead; the botched introduction of the revised National Curriculum in 2000, leading to the crisis in AS and A Levels in 2002 when 300,000 papers had to be remarked; Estelle Morris's denigration of comprehensive schools and her resignation; and Ruth Kelly's decision not to implement the recommendations of the 2004 Tomlinson Report on diplomas.

Many teachers were angered by New Labour's treatment of the comprehensive schools. Ministers 'ignored their continuing record of improvement'; while the use of such language as 'bog-standard comprehensives' was 'not only insulting but did not correspond with research findings' (Lawton 2005:145).

Denis Lawton was concerned that the Labour Party appeared to have abandoned its traditional commitment to 'social justice or fairness or equal worth' (Lawton 2005:146):

Blair and some of his colleagues still pay lip-service to 'equal worth' but in practice they have substantially moved away from the ideal of a common educational experience for all, with a common curriculum in non-selective schools. What they seem to want instead of a comprehensive system is a hierarchy of schools descending in cost and often quality from independent schools to grammar schools to beacon schools, 'advanced' specialist schools to less prestigious specialist schools to the kind of secondary school they would never send their own children to.

These basic value changes are 'compensated' for by attempting to raise 'standards' in all schools by a culture of targets, testing and league tables. Such a system is being increasingly commercialised and privatised to fit in with New Labour's vision of modernisation in education (Lawton 2005:146).

For Clyde Chitty, the education initiatives of the Blair years
seemed to involve the creation of many new types of secondary school, which would attract the support of the middle and aspirant classes, and thereby help to secure the government's new electoral base (Chitty 2013:105).
This 'rigid hierarchy of schools', however,
served chiefly to undermine the Blairite rhetoric of 'equality of opportunity', and to sharpen divisions and insecurities (Chitty 2013:105).
What was not part of New Labour's education agenda, says Chitty, was support for the concept of the 'traditional' comprehensive high school which campaigners had envisaged in the 1950s and 1960s:
They had thought in terms of a single unified system of fully comprehensive community schools, under local democratic control, and without private, voluntary, or selective enclaves. The Labour Party's conspicuous failure to embrace this total concept in the 1960s and 1970s, made it comparatively easy to dismantle the whole structure once disillusionment set in (Chitty 2013:168).
With regard to the school curriculum, the Blair administrations continued the Conservative policy of 'amending and, where necessary, jettisoning whole areas of the National Curriculum' (Chitty 2009a:249). As a result, teaching
came to be dominated by literacy and numeracy, increasingly framed as generic employment skills, with more specific preparation for work from age 14. Apart from ICT [information and communications technology] - the poster boy of New Labour modernisation - policymakers showed little interest in the rest of the curriculum and inevitably there followed a serious decline in the number taking languages, history or geography (Wrigley 2014:29).
New Labour's curriculum policy, says Wrigley, was characterised by
neoliberal modernisation with little apparent concern about using curriculum to hold society together, let alone promote social engagement and critical analysis. Perhaps it was assumed that the social order, seen as meritocracy, would be sufficiently protected by increasing the performance pressure on young people and making sure they were too busy pursuing qualifications and careers to question the social order (Wrigley 2014:29-30).
Writing in Forum (Spring/Summer 2007), Professor Maurice Galton reviewed research evidence produced during the Blair decade and concluded that
New Labour has been less successful in raising standards than the government and its spokespersons have suggested. Gains, if any, have been limited to the first few years and have been accompanied by a serious deterioration in pupils' attitudes to school in general and to subjects such as English, mathematics and science in particular. Motivation appears to have changed in ways that do not encourage pupils to take up new challenges or to express themselves creatively. Teachers claim that they now work excessive hours in an attempt to deliver a broad curriculum and attribute their feelings of stress to the fact that the present government no longer seems to trust their judgements in curriculum matters. More seriously, primary classroom practice now seems more akin to stereotyped secondary school lessons, dominated by a fast pace, with restricted questioning and a tendency for teachers to control the discourse such that transmission rather than exploration dominates (Galton 2007:173).
Meanwhile, the increasing pressure of league tables, targets and Ofsted inspections resulted in some 'perverse incentives':
Schools rushed to introduce more vocational qualifications to allow them to climb the league tables. When maths and English were included in the league table measure, schools began entering children early for those exams, then allowing them to drop the subjects once they had attained the all-important C grade. It also drove schools to focus on children on the C/D borderline at the expense of others (Curtis 2009).
Summing up the Blair decade, Peter Mortimore expressed the disappointment of many:
Much needed to be done when this government came into office in 1997. And many teachers wanted to help improve schools and make our society more equal. But, instead of the formulation of a long-term improvement plan based on the two big questions - what sort of education system is suitable for a modern society, and how can excellence and equity be made to work together - schools got top-down diktat. Successive ministers, and especially their advisers, thought they knew 'what works'. They cherry-picked research, suppressed evaluations that gave them answers they did not want, and compounded the mess. Trusting teachers - which is what ministers do in the best-performing countries - was not on the agenda (Mortimore 2009a).
Simon Jenkins (1943- ), the political commentator and former editor of The Times, was equally disappointed. Writing in The Guardian (25 January 2006), he noted that the 1944 Education Act and the abolition of the eleven plus in the 1960s had 'sought to break the dominance of religion and class over public sector schooling in Britain' and that 'to a large extent they succeeded'.

But, he warned,

Ever since, religion and class have been fighting their way back. Blair and Adonis are their latest champions. This is archaic (Jenkins 2006).
Tony Blair ended his decade as Prime Minister by offering the Church of England a multi-million-pound expansion programme which, over a five-year period, would see the number of church-run academies increase by a hundred (The Guardian 19 May 2007). It was, perhaps, an unsurprising gesture from a man whose enthusiasm for faith schools had become almost an obsession.

As he left 10 Downing Street at the end of June 2007, Tony Blair was said to have been concerned about his 'legacy' and worried that he would be remembered for just one thing: the Iraq war. On that, only time will tell.


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Chapter 16 | Chapter 18