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The ties that blind

Social democrats might argue that the only way to make the poor richer is to take the silver spoons out of the mouths of Etonians. Yet when came the opportunity for lasting change in this country, the government of Attlee and Dalton and Gaitskill, the Labour administration that created the NHS and free education to the masses, balked at the chance of abolishing private schooling. Perhaps, as A.N. Wilson brilliantly suggests in his follow up to The Victorians, they enjoyed wearing their own school ties a little too much.

Like his predecessors, Tony Blair promised education education education as a pathway to equality. Yet he too may have been blighted by his Oxbridge past, unable and perhaps unwilling to do away with selection by ability and by income, processes that are neatly packaged up in phrases such as "choice" to make middle England feel less guilty about sending their son or daughter to the "good" school rather than the "bog-standard comp", as insensitively described by the former PMs Cambridge-educated spin doctor, Alastair Campbell.

Granted, there has been record investment the schools system in England and Wales. Every school in the country will have by 2010 seen some form of structural improvement - a new roof perhaps or a five-lane swimming pool. Whole new academy schools with state-of-the-art facilities have been established to supposedly replace the failing institutions of old.

Yet the ideal of the comprehensive school, where people of all backgrounds are educated at the same place, has been undermined. School admission policy is still the battleground between proponents of a classless society and those who wish to sustain the status quo. Will academies run by religious groups really give non-believers the same chances at interview as the orthodox? Will house price inflation around the "good" schools do anything but hasten the ghettoisation of the races and the classes?

So much for the third way.

Perhaps there's a fourth - one that is being tried and tested in Brighton albeit to the chagrin of wealthier folk. What if every school had to admit a percentage of students from every income bracket? Flexible setting could offset the worries of middle income that the brightest would miss out, whilst at the same time giving the poorest a leg up the opportunity ladder instead of being consigned to schools labelled by Ofsted as "inadequate".

Blair and Attlee may have been right - private schools might not necessarily need to be abolished to realise a fairer society. But perhaps they could have made a better fist at ridding Britain of the need for them.

I will not take your bible and I will not take your gun