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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 May 2007, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
Education, education, education
On Sunday 20 May Andrew Marr interviewed Nigel Farage MEP and David Willetts MP

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage, UKIP Leader

NIGEL FARAGE: It's only UKIP that actually believes in academic selection, believes in grammar schools, we know they work.

And here's another massive issue upon what the electorate will say well what's the difference between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, and the answer clearly is not very much.

ANDREW MARR: Why do you think this decision has been taken by this group around David Cameron at the top of the Conservative Party?

NIGEL FARAGE: Well if you look at David Cameron and his Conservative Party it's absolutely dominated by Eton College. And here's a group of very privileged people who I don't think really understand what's going on in the outside world.

You know the fact is if we believe in social mobility in the twenty first century the best way for the brightest kids from the poorest backgrounds to get on is to have the opportunity through academic selection to go to a grammar school. And I think this is a disconnect between the David Cameron set and real people.

ANDREW MARR: And your message therefore to all those irate Conservatives out there is presumably come home to UKIP?

NIGEL FARAGE: Well I mean I just think we're looking at the next general election and we're asking ourselves do we want a new Labour government or a blue Labour government.

At least with UKIP you know you've got a party that stands up clearly. Doesn't just believe in national independence but believes in proper grammar schools, believes in lower taxes and I think that message is going to be very appealing.

ANDREW MARR: Do you think this is the kind of policy initiative that is actually going to cause defections from the Conservatives to UKIP?

NIGEL FARAGE: This is an absolutely fundamental question. I know there are an awful lot of back bench Conservative MPs who are really very, very tired of the Cameron project. Whether this proves to be the straw that breaks the camel's back I don't know. But I do think we're not very far away from that point.

ANDREW MARR: Thank you.


David Willetts MP
David Willetts MP

On Sunday 20 May Andrew Marr interviewed David Willetts MP

ANDREW MARR: Thank you for coming in.

Putting to a.. to one side the question of defections, there's an awful lot of Conservatives who will have watched that interview and would have been nodding vigorously when Mr Farage talked about where's the difference, where's the choice.

New Labour, blue Labour. This is an elitist policy which pulls up the ladder.

DAVID WILLETTS: This is not an elitist policy. This is a policy based on the clear evidence about what works. I'm looking at how we improve social mobility in Britain today.

And when I look at the schools that do best at taking children from a range of backgrounds, including the poorest backgrounds, and giving them good academic opportunities, I have to say that the best of the city technology colleges and also some of the academies that Tony Blair has introduced. Now we're not going to attack other schools but that is the most powerful way.

ANDREW MARR: So you're following Tony Blair absolutely?

DAVID WILLETTS: Ah, ah but what's happened this week in politics is that Alan Johnson the Education Secretary has this week said there is a limit to the number of academies. Gordon Brown is very ambivalent about Tony Blair's academies.

ANDREW MARR: All right.

DAVID WILLETTS: I believe that the future is a Conservative government carrying forward much more ambitiously than this tired Labour government could a much more ambitious programme of more academies to improve education opportunities in our toughest areas with academic selection within the school not between schools.

ANDREW MARR: The great age of social mobility produced Ted Heath, Margaret Thatcher, Harold Wilson, was the age when large numbers of people came up through grammar schools. Working class people came up through grammar schools. Your party closed a huge number of grammar schools and now you're proposing to exclude that possibility, academic selection through grammar schools from countless numbers of working class kids across Britain.

DAVID WILLETTS: Well this is a very important issue that I tried to tackle head on in my speech with the evidence. Yes of course in the past grammar schools probably did help improve social mobility.


DAVID WILLETTS: But without grammar schools selling out or doing anything bad, because the social environment within which they operate has changed it might be the case that sitting the Eleven Plus or indeed access to one of the high academic achieving comprehensives is less available to children from poorer backgrounds than it was before.

ANDREW MARR: So make it more available. Don't, don't, don't crack down on grammar schools.

DAVID WILLETTS: No but even in, even in the areas where we've got grammar schools which are excellent and which we are keeping, but even in the areas where you've got grammar schools, where you've got high academic achieving comprehensives, very, a very small proportion of the poor children in those areas pass the Eleven Plus.

And the reason, and it's an important argument because so many people say well they could just carry on as they did before. The reason is now by the age of eleven children have had such a diverse range of experiences I cite the academic evidence. You already, even if you were a bright kid when you were young from a poor background you're already going to be performing much less well at test by the age of eleven. Now that is a scandal in our education system which we need to tackle ..

ANDREW MARR: Which, which you could tackle ..

DAVID WILLETTS: .. and at last the Conservative government is, will be tackling.

ANDREW MARR: What people find bizarre is that you are saying here are these schools, these grammar schools which are successful. You went to a grammar school. You presumably had a good education there. It's the kind of thing, is it, that you'd like other people to have.

DAVID WILLETTS: I absolutely support people's choice for their children to go to a grammar school, to go to an excellent comprehensive ..

ANDREW MARR: So good school, good schools ..

DAVID WILLETTS: .. to go to an independent school.

ANDREW MARR: .. which are working, so let's not have any more of them thank you.

DAVID WILLETTS: No, they are working but the challenge for us is that even in the areas where they are located they are not taking the children from the range of social backgrounds that they used to take. We have to confront that evidence. We therefore need to look at new ways in which tackling the three thousand secondary schools, not the hundred and sixty grammar schools.

They are safe. We're not going to touch them. How can we improve opportunities in the large parts of the country where grammar schools have gone and where I do not believe that a return to grammar schools is either feasible or would necessarily tackle the big problem of declining opportunities in Britain today.

ANDREW MARR: You've got the policy ..

DAVID WILLETTS: And what the speech really had ..


DAVID WILLETTS: .. was at least serious Conservative thinking about how we do that. We can't just go round saying ..

ANDREW MARR: All right. You talk of serious Conservative thinking.


ANDREW MARR: You've got a policy group looking at education. They are outraged that this was announced over their heads and before they'd had a chance to report.

DAVID WILLETTS: I'm in very close contact with Pauline Perry who is chairing our policy group ..

ANDREW MARR: I can read you the ... well you know the quotes. They're all over the papers.

DAVID WILLETTS: .. on ... who, she was chairing our policy group on education and everything that I said in that speech drew on evidence that has been given to our policy group on education as well. And the fact is as well that speech repeated a position that David Cameron and I have set out clearly over the past eighteen months. We support existing grammar schools but there is no return to the Eleven Plus in the large parts of the country for which it's gone.

So we need fresh thinking about how we do improve opportunities in those areas. That means more academies, that means more tried and tested teaching methods, that means getting rid of the two million pound contribution required for someone to set up an academy. And I think at last people will see there's a Conservative Party that is thinking ahead ..


DAVID WILLETTS: .. about how we spread education opportunities.

ANDREW MARR: So Michael Howard clearly livid about this. Huge numbers of your own MPs furious about it. Conservative web site crammed with people saying this is the thing which is going to stop me voting Conservative ever again. Now what do you say to these people?


ANDREW MARR: Is this purely to provoke them and show that David Cameron and David Willetts are having their Clause Four moment?

DAVID WILLETTS: No, that's not, that's not how we work. No.

ANDREW MARR: If so it's backfired.

DAVID WILLETTS: Right. Well what is, the point of this. First of all some of this was rest, resting on extremely misleading media reporting that suggested that we were going to attack existing grammar schools. As I said in my speech, as David and I have clear, made clear on several occasions, I repeat it again today, existing grammar schools stay.

They are excellent schools. So are the academically selective comprehensives. But the problem is they are not delivering opportunities to children from the poorer, more modest backgrounds. And there are large parts of the country where grammar schools have long since gone. And we need a new thinking about how we help those.

ANDREW MARR: So for the future ..

DAVID WILLETTS: And in my speech I set out that thinking.

ANDREW MARR: Right, so the future ..

DAVID WILLETTS: And I am confident that is going to improve social mobility in Britain today which I think is a fundamental Conservative principle and I'm thinking afresh about how we can actually deliver that in education.

ANDREW MARR: Right across the spectrum of Conservative thinking that one can deduce from the newspapers, web site, everybody is saying for goodness sake please think again about this. This is a fundamental mistake that you've made.

DAVID WILLETTS: Well when you say ..

ANDREW MARR: Is there any chance of you thinking again?

DAVID WILLETTS: Well when you say think again, first of all let me repeat, existing grammar schools are safe. I have no desire to attack existing excellent schools. But what I'm engaging with is there are three thousand secondary schools that are not the one hundred and sixty grammar schools.

What I'm engaging with is the fact that even the high academic comprehensives are socially selective. So what I am offering is thinking about how in the large parts of the country where children from modest backgrounds do not have any reasonable prospect of a decent, traditional education which I believe in as a Conservative, how we can reach out to them.

ANDREW MARR: So selection or ...

DAVID WILLETTS: And I have identified the way of doing that which is the city technology colleges we introduced, now Tony Blair's academies which - and there is some politics here. There is some politics, you're quite right. And the politics is this week Gordon Brown has gone cool on academies and we've got serious about them.

ANDREW MARR: All right. All right. I mean I noticed the only people who were applauding you this day are left wing and pro Labour columnists which, which you know perhaps in the old phrase the wrong people from your point of view ...

DAVID WILLETTS: I think, first of all this is not - I think that's unfair actually. I think all the people who've looked seriously at the evidence about how you improve educational standards in England today are massively ..

ANDREW MARR: On your side.

DAVID WILLETTS: .. encouraged ..

ANDREW MARR: All right.

DAVID WILLETTS: .. that we are at last thinking about this.

ANDREW MARR: One other issue I have to ask you about. Freedom of information. A lot of anger in the papers about MPs excluding themselves. How would you have voted?

DAVID WILLETTS: I think that it's wrong for MPs to exclude ourselves from legislation that we apply to everyone else. It would have been a free vote for individual MPs but I personally think it is a mistake to pass legislation and they say, and then say we MPs should be exempt. I think actually one ..

ANDREW MARR: A clear answer. Thank you very much indeed David Willetts.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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