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Wednesday, 22 May, 2002, 09:02 GMT 10:02 UK
Eton choice defended by Tory leader
Iain Duncan Smith
Mr Duncan Smith says he stands for equality
Iain Duncan Smith has defended his decision to send his children to private schools just a day after saying he believes in equal opportunities for all pupils.

In a speech on Tuesday the Conservative leader said children from Britain's poorest areas should have the same chances to do well as everybody else.


Those who can seek to buy their way out of failure but they cannot avoid the consequences of failure for those left behind

Iain Duncan Smith
But in an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme he was challenged over the fact that his children were being privately educated - one of them at Eton.

Mr Duncan Smith said: "My children have been to both state and private school and they were in a school at one stage which has a huge number of children that do not speak English as their first language."

He pointed out that in countries like France and Holland there was a mixture of state and private schools but that mix was uncontroversial.

Devolving power?

The issue was choice - although he acknowledged that choice had to be meaningful.

"I am not here to debate what my children do but one thing I do know as a principle is that every single parent in this country must have the choice to send their children to the best school that they can," said Mr Duncan Smith.

Prince Harry
Mr Duncan Smith's son is at Eton along with Prince Harry
The aim of the Tories was to allow head teachers, school governors and parents to have far greater power over the education of children.

The government had imposed "a raft of targets" and relied on central control and uniformity instead of catering to local needs.

During his speech at Hackney Community College in east London Mr Duncan Smith portrayed his party as a champion of the vulnerable.

He told students and teachers that the drive must be focused on helping the young in deprived inner city areas and more power must be given to local people.

Equal opportunity?

The benefit system could be changed to resemble the US model, which gives individual states and cities the power to take charge of welfare programmes, he suggested.

The Tory leader said: "The most important thing to me personally, my mission for the Conservative Party, is to provide equal opportunity in our schools for all children - particularly the most vulnerable - wherever they live, however much their parents earn."

Uniformity only bred social division, not cohesion, he argued.

There was nothing compassionate in leaving the most vulnerable to suffer because it was thought everybody should be treated the same regardless of their needs.

Decentralise power

Mr Duncan Smith stressed it was time to trust people, by giving teachers, doctors, nurses and councillors "the power to do their jobs and make them accountable for what they do".

He said that bad schools kept "poor families poor" and pointed to the gulf between high-achieving areas and those where one in 10 children leave school without a single GCSE.

"As our country grows richer, those who can seek to buy their way out of failure, but they cannot avoid the consequences of failure for those left behind."

The Tory leader accused Labour of running public services in the same centralised way as Clement Attlee did in the 1940s.

"We will have to re-examine the entire relationship between central government and the people it is supposed to represent.

"We will have to challenge every principle except one: that people should be helped according to their needs."

See also:

21 May 02 | UK Politics
21 May 02 | UK Politics
28 Feb 02 | England
27 Feb 02 | UK Politics
27 Feb 02 | UK Politics
14 May 02 | UK Politics
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