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11 May 2007updated 09 Sep 2021 8:31am

Education

Dr Paul Ellis and Dr Ambrose Smith give us their views on the last ten years under Tony Blair.

By Paul Ellis and Ambrose Smith

Dr Paul Ellis is Head of English at University College School, Hampstead, London. Below he gives his view.

So what has Blair done with “education, education, education”? Well, in a word, an awful lot of “testing”.

Students have been examined as never before. Teachers and schools have been held accountable by a culture of “performance and assessment management”. More school-leavers have got paper qualifications. Grades are higher.

But there is too much teaching to the test, too much judgement by spreadsheet. Many teachers have – in effect – become managers of curriculum delivery, marketing skills as commodities (just as the Conservatives wanted).

While saying “education, education, education”, Blair has really meant “education: economics, economics”. Blair’s policy experiments – Sure Start, Every Child Matters, Beacon Schools, Education Action Zones, City Academies, and so on – have all been about turning us into productive capital.

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But who can blame him? How else can Britain give its young people the skills they will need to compete in the global twenty-first century economy?

For literature-loving humanists like me, the independent sector – or one particular school, even – has been an enlightened refuge from this brutal redefining of education. And, to Blair’s credit, I suppose, he has at least seen some good in the independent sector.

Dr Ambrose Smith is the principal of Aquinas College, an open-access Catholic sixth form college in Stockport. Below he gives his view.

I think that running a modern country is a very difficult task and, overall, I think that Tony Blair has made a pretty good job of it.

Inevitably, he has made some mistakes – most notably on Iraq. Concerning the field in which I work – education – I think that “education, education, education” has actually meant something, and there has been a substantial improvement in the resources that have been available in the further education sector and consequently in what we have been able to achieve.

Early in Blair’s period in office he was the most popular Prime Minister of modern times – according to opinion polls etc. This was in marked contrast to Thatcher who in her parallel period was the least popular. Thatcher’s later popularity was underpinned by her war in the Falklands: Blair’s popularity was undone by his war in Iraq.

I think he has been an honest leader with generally worthy motives. Iraq has been the big exception, where, possibly influenced by Thatcher’s experience, he judged that Iraq would make him more popular, not less. I think his basic instincts were less war-like and he should have followed them.”

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