» Thursday, November 17, 2005


Asked what the Prime Minister’s view was about the selection of abilities in schools, the PMOS said that as we had expressed this morning, there would be no return to the 11 plus, and what the new White Paper actually did was to strengthen the procedure under which the adjudicator could intervene. The adjudicator’s rulings in future would apply for three years, not one year as at present.

Asked if the Prime Minister felt strongly about the issue, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had stated on more than one occasion that fair admissions were central in the Government’s policy.

Put to the PMOS that there were other means of selection other than the 11 plus , and perhaps one way of resolving the perceived problem amongst MPs would be to write in the Bill the guarantee given by Ruth Kelly that there would be no return to selection, the PMOS said that when specialist schools were set up, they were allowed to choose ten per cent of pupils for aptitude. Specialist schools had increased from around two hundred to around two thousand five hundred, and the percentage of pupils chosen for aptitude was still only around six per cent, with two thirds of secondary school pupils being educated in specialist schools of one kind or another. People could look at the experience of what the Government had done and see that fair admissions had remained at the centre.

Put to the PMOS that if some form of guarantee was written into the Bill, it would be a case of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater", the PMOS replied that what people should look at was not only what Ministers said, but also the experience of specialist and other schools since the period of reform began. What that experience showed was that what they had done was increase standards, especially where academies had been introduced in deprived areas, whilst keeping to fair admissions.

Put to the PMOS that that had not, so far, appeared to convince many of the rebel backbenchers, the PMOS said that the entire point of the period of debates which Ministers had embarked on was precisely to educate both the public and MPs in the reality of what had happened in the reform programme, rather than the rhetoric of debate as it was sometimes carried out.

Asked who was the current adjudicator, and was it a Government position, the PMOS said that the journalist should speak to the Department for Education for more information.

Asked why the Prime Minister needed to educate his Party about the reforms that were being proposed, considering there had been Party conferences etc, the PMOS said there had been a lot of change since 1997 in the education system, and much of that change had raised standards quite considerably. Equally, however, in the era of globalisation, and in the era as a country we had to raise our skills base, we had to raise standards all the time. That was why there was both the sense that a lot had happened in education, but also, the determination from the Prime Minster and the Education Secretary that we needed to go a lot further. We needed to keep going a lot further, particularly in the deprived communities that in the past had had poor schools. The fact that a lot had been done, and that the education system had delivered a lot of improvements across the board, in the modern globalised world, that was not enough. We had to keep pushing the boundary further forward, because as a country, we had to have to the skills, as the future generation would need to compete in the globalised world.

Briefing took place at 7:00 | Search for related news

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