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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 October 2005, 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK
Blair says quality key to choice
Tony Blair
Tony Blair says choice depends on having more successful schools
The key to school choice is to have sufficient good quality schools, says the Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Challenged over plans to reform the allocation of school places, Mr Blair told the House of Commons of the need to increase the number of good schools.

"You can't introduce choice simply by a choice mechanism," said Mr Blair.

In London, Mr Blair said, there had been significant improvements in exam results, giving parents more options when choosing schools.

"There can be no choice unless we're also putting in the investment to create better schools," said Mr Blair.

'Independent' state schools

Later this month, the government is to present a White Paper on education, which is expected to give parents a wider range of choices over school places.

But Mr Blair's comments at prime minister's questions suggested that raising standards, as much as changing admissions rules, would remain central to any attempts to give more families access to good state schools.

You have had choice for years for middle class parents, because if necessary they have the financial wherewithal to move house
Tony Blair
The prime minister had been challenged by the leader of the opposition, Michael Howard, as to whether the admissions regulations of city academies would be applied to all schools.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Mr Blair had announced that all schools in England would be given the chance to be "independent, non fee-paying schools".

Mr Blair said his government's plans for "radical reforms" would give "more power to parents".

Extending more school choice to parents could mean finding ways to break the pattern of access to good schools being determined by whether families could afford to buy a house near them.

This could involve a different way of allocating places and improving school transport to give poorer families access to a wider range of schools.

Social mobility

But in his answers at the press conference on Tuesday, Mr Blair said that choice already existed for middle class families who could afford to move house - and the key to widening choice was to provide better schools for children in poorer areas.

"I don't doubt there is a real problem still with disadvantage and social mobility - there is - but what is the answer? The answer is to improve the state of education for kids in poor areas," said Mr Blair.

He defended the principle of widening choice in schools by saying that it already existed for better-off parents.

"You have had choice for years for middle class parents, because if necessary they have the financial wherewithal to move house in order to be next to the good school."

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