Ruth Kelly, the education secretary, has published the government's latest plans for schools in England. With a title like Higher Standards, Better Schools for All, who could argue with such a vision?
Ah, the devil and the detail. First, there's choice. Choice is the great secular god of modern British politics: a word so holy that no politician seems able to argue that it is anything other than one of the supreme virtues. But I am continually frustrated in the education debate that no-one seems able to define the cursed word. Whose choice are we talking about? Schools' or parents'?
Choice is all very well in a world where well-meaning parents with intelligent, perfectly adjusted children choose between a bevy of wonderful local schools. But what about parents of an unruly child who want to 'choose' to send him to a school that prides itself on its calm? Or the parents of an underachiever who want their child 'stretched' by being placed among children of much higher academic ability? Who is to choose in these cases? The schools? The parents? One cannot have choice for both in education.
Then, and this is a more general point, there's local authorities. One of the central tenets of the White Paper is that it will 'free' schools from the implicitly pernicious grip of local government. I'm not blind to the frequently dreadful failings of local authorities, but it speaks volumes for the government's attitude to local government that it wants to deprive it of one of its last major responsibilities. How long before every last power is removed from local government and handed over to Whitehall?