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Programme highlights Monday, 12 February, 2001, 15:33 GMT
Comprehensive changes
Children at school
The government is planning to overhaul comprehensive schools
The day of the "bog standard" comprehensive school is over.

That was Alistair Campbell's blunt description of the Government's plan for secondary schools in England.

Half are due to become specialist schools, under the terms of today's green-paper - which, in effect, amounts to part of Labour's election manifesto.

Education Secretary David Blunkett
Labour is backing church-based schooling

The programme envisages much more scope for the establishment of church-based schools, as well as those that specialise in specific disciplines or skills and in some cases sponsorship by commercial companies.

Heads will have yet more autonomy over the development of their own institutions.

And for the first time Ministers have proposed that both private companies and successful schools should be able to take over failing schools.

Tony Blair said today that the common feature was that each school should be distinctive - in its methods, ethos and principles.

Back to selective schools?

Does this add up to a full-scale conversion to the principle of selection?

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Blair was present at the policy launch on Monday

As a matter of simple logic all the developments seem likely to cause schools to look carefully at the children they take in, either on the basis of their religious beliefs, or their aptitude for a particular set of subjects.

But critics believe the Green Paper signals the end of the comprehensive system, introduced by Labour in the 1960s.

The Campaign for State Education a parent-based organisation has been campaigning for an end to selective education - triggering ballots in some areas.

We're not actually in favour as an organisation of specialisms in schools

Mary Blake

Mary Blake chairs the organisation, and she told the World at One that education should be about the best for all children, not simply those in specialist schools.

Other experts felt that the proposals had their merits, but were in danger of missing out schools which are low in the educational pecking-order.

What we want to do is promote interdependence

Tim Brighouse
Professor Tim Brighouse is a one-time adviser to Labour, now Birmingham's Education chief. He said that there was a risk in moving too far towards establishing the independence of each school to develop as it chose.

What was needed, he suggested, was a 'collegiate approach', in which the shared needs of schools in urban areas could be recognised.

Enthusiasm from industry

But there has been an enthusiastic welcome from one of the firms already involved in running failing schools.

Stanley Goodchild is managing director of 3E's Enterprises: he has used his firm's experience in Guildford, where the failing King's Manor Comprehensive was closed down and then re-opened as a voluntary-aided college, as an example of what can be done.

He believed that the Government had taken note of such success-stories to open the door to private enterprise.

But perhaps the most surprising endorsement of the Government's thinking came from Susan Crosland, now a commentator and writer on the political left.

If it's shown that it is not working for some reason, then change it

Susan Crosland

Her late husband, Tony, is credited with being 'the father of comprehensive education'. As Labour's Education Secretary in the 1960s, he famously threatened to close 'every Grammar school in the land'.

She told the programme today that her husband had never been ideological: if something wasn't working, it should be changed.

And she believed that the ideas being put forward by the modern Labour Party should be given a chance.

Mary Blake
"We're not in favour of specialisms"
Tim Brighouse
"What we want to do is promote interdependence"
Susan Crosland
"If it's not working then change it"
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