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Wednesday, 23 May, 2001, 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK
Blair signals more private state schools
Tony Blair, Southampton
"No go backing back" for schools, says Tony Blair
The prime minister says more state schools could be run by private companies, in a more "diverse" comprehensive system.

Speaking at Southampton University, as Labour launched its education manifesto, Tony Blair said that he welcomed further public-private partnerships in the school sector.

David Blunkett
David Blunkett attacked Conservative plans for education as "irresponsible"

Earlier this week, Surrey County Council announced that for the first time a state school would be run by a private company for profit.

"Where you have a school that's in difficulty and the private sector can help - provided it's still rooted in state education - then I think that it has a role to play," said Mr Blair.

"It's time to move the debate on from the old arguments. We're not going back to the 11-plus and grammar schools.

"It's time to modernise the comprehensive system in a way that provides high quality choice and diversity in secondary. There's a whole new range of types of provision that we need to develop."

Tuition fees

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, said that it was not enough to identify failing schools and local authorities - there had to be a corresponding level of intervention.

And this could involve the private sector, without any "upper limit" on the number of schools or authorities taking part in such partnerships.

So far the government has ordered interventions in 18 struggling local education authorities, including the contracting out of services to private companies.

Mr Blunkett also strongly defended the government's policy on higher education and gave no indication of a change of policy on student tuition fees.

The abolition of tuition fees would hurt the poorest students, he said, since at present they were exempted from paying them.

And he attacked the Conservatives' plan to fund universities through an endowment system as "irresponsible".

But the Conservatives' education spokesperson, Theresa May, rejected Labour's claims to be the party that would protect standards in education.

"Given Labour's failure over the last four years, parents and teachers have no reason to believe that they will deliver on their pledges if they are given a second chance," she said.

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