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Tuesday, February 9, 1999 Published at 16:55 GMT


Grammar schools divisive, says PM

The prime minister opposes a return to the 11-plus exam

Tony Blair has said that grammar schools brand children as "failures" at the age of 11.

Tony Blair sets out his views on selective education
But the prime minister added that selective schools which are doing a good job should be allowed to carry on if local parents want them to.

"I believe that children have different abilities," he told BBC Radio Two's Jimmy Young Programme.

"But I think that if you divide them up, if we divide everyone up into successes and failures at the age of 11, there are problems with that."

He added: "The reason I don't say it's part of government policy to get rid of all grammar schools is that I think that if a school's doing a good job, then we don't want to get rid of that school.

[ image: Tony Blair:
Tony Blair: "Our policy is geared toward developing modern comprehensive schools"
"But the whole burden of our policy is geared toward developing modern comprehensive schools so that we take account - for example by setting in different subjects - of different abilities without going back to the old system of the 11-plus.

"What is actually important is to concentrate on raising the standards in the vast majority of schools that are comprehensive schools."

The prime minister said he was committed to giving parents, rather than local councils, the right to decide on whether to keep a grammar school.

His comments were attacked by the Shadow Education Secretary, David Willetts.

"This is a classic example of Tony Blair trying to have it both ways," said Mr Willetts.

[ image: David Willetts:
David Willetts: "This is a classic example of Tony Blair trying to have it both ways"
"First he says he is opposed to grammar schools for branding children failures at the age of 11, but then he says that 'if a school is doing a good job then we don't want to get rid of that school'.

"The fact is that the government's bizarre arrangements for grammar schools ballots are designed to be a threat to grammar schools."

Mr Blair also defended his decision to send his children to schools outside his home boroughs of Islington - where he lived before becoming prime minister - and Westminster, which contains Downing Street.

"We are not deserting inner city schools, but we are saying people have a choice," he said.

The government is committed to improving standards in all schools, he insisted.

"It's important if we are to provide more choice to parents we provide better schools, because if there are more good schools then the choice is more meaningful."

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The Education (Grammar School Ballots) Regulations 1998

Campaign for State Education - 'Say no to selection'

Parents' Alliance for Choice in Education (Trafford)

School standards: Join the Question Time debate

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